November 18, 2015


Four ways to counter ISIS propaganda more effectively (Alberto M. Fernandez, November 16, 2015, Brookings)

Rather than oscillate between triumphalism and despair, we need a constant counter-propaganda effort. I have several recommendations:

We need to view the problem of the Islamic State as a political problem with a media dimension, not the other way around. All too often we think that these are public relations or messaging issues. But they're related to the real world: there is a real war in Syria and Iraq, there's real violence, there are real people being killed. Mosul did fall to the Islamic State, it wasn't imaginary. So we need to realize that when we talk about messaging, it is intrinsically linked to a political reality. We cannot divorce propaganda from the political reality on the ground. 

It takes a network to fight a network. Despite some steps to ramp up the volume of our counter-propaganda efforts, we still lack the volume necessary to be able to compete in this space. Volume has value. And the Islamic State--either itself or with its networks--still has the advantage in numbers, and it's managed to create an echo chamber that gives its messages a life of their own. 

There is a wealth of credible voices of people who have firsthand knowledge of ISIS violence that have not been fully tapped. In August 2014, for instance, the Islamic State killed almost 1,000 male members of the Sheitaat Tribe, a Sunni-Arab-Muslim Tribe in Syria. We know that there are Sheitaat Tribesmen now in refugee camps--they (along with Iraqis from Anbar province and Syrian refugees) have their own firsthand stories to tell. It would be a good investment for a Western or Middle Eastern government to hire some of those people and empower them to challenge extremists on social media. That's an easy and inexpensive step. 

On content, there is too much emphasis on the search for the magic bullet. What counter-propagandists really need is multifaceted content similar to the multifaceted content that the Islamic State produces. This could include sarcasm, fact-based approaches, ideological approaches, and others. Governments--especially the U.S. government--aren't always the best-equipped to engage in ideological struggles; since there is an ideological dimension to the ISIS battle, governments should include the relevant actors in the design and implementation of its counter-propaganda strategy. 

Posted by at November 18, 2015 6:20 PM