Experts: US behind curve in online war with ISIS

Friday 15/05/2015
Many a battlefield

Washington - The US government is moving too slowly to counter the Islamic State‘s (ISIS) fast-paced online propaganda and vast recruitment efforts, experts and lawmakers said.
The large scale and the lightning tempo of ISIS’s social media cam­paign poses a daunting challenge, particularly for a government bu­reaucracy ill-equipped to respond quickly or to experiment, experts said.
ISIS can rely on “a very large number of people” to promote their message online and “it can afford to have 2,000 people who tweet 150 times a day,” J.M. Berger, a fellow at the Brookings Institu­tion, said.
“It can afford to have a ratio of two or three recruiters to every one potential recruit who might carry out a lone wolf attack,” Berger, who has tracked ISIS and other extremist groups online, told the US Senate Homeland Security committee.
The United States or others op­posed to ISIS will need to deploy similar numbers and declassify photos, videos or other intelli­gence that can expose the failures of the jihadists in areas under its control, Berger and other experts said. Daveed Garstein-Ross, a sen­ior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said “the US government has to be able to be more quick to react, to be able to respond at the same kind of speed” as the jihadists online.
In some cases, false claims by ISIS have been carried by news me­dia and the US government need­ed to quickly release information to show an accurate picture that could undercut the jihadists, he said.
US Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., ridiculed the US government’s on­line effort against ISIS as “laugh­able.” Holding up an iPad at the hearing, Booker cited a paltry number of retweets as proof that the online counter-messaging was failing.
Booker also questioned why so much funding was devoted to what he called “old school media”, such as Voice of America broadcasts.
Private “hacktivists” have prov­en the most effective at combating the jihadists in social media, often by reporting inflammatory posts and getting pro-ISIS users sus­pended from Twitter, according to Berger.
Chasing ISIS propagandists off of Twitter had a downside, though, as it deprived government authori­ties of information used to track recruitment, he said.