The US government isn't just fighting ISIS on the ground — it's also been battling the terrorist group online, trying to counteract ISIS' propaganda with messaging of its own. But those efforts have not been particularly successful, according to The New York Times, and now the US government is hoping to streamline and strengthen its messaging in an attempt to counteract ISIS' work. Effectively, this means that the government wants to get better at using social media.
"These guys aren’t BuzzFeed."
To do that, the US government reportedly plans to bring all of its counter-messaging attempts under one roof, that of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was created in 2011 to coordinate this type of communication. A new group, called the Information Coordination Cell, will reportedly be tasked with organizing the interagency effort. The plan is expected to be detailed — at least at a broad level — this week, according to the Times. It's not stated when these changes would be implemented.
Under the new plan, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications will coordinate Twitter accounts from across the government to get its messages out. According to the Times, this includes more than 350 State Department accounts — those of embassies, consulates, and individuals — as well as accounts from Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and international allies. The agency has thus far been criticized for operating too independent from the rest of the government, so this plan may well resolve that.
The center will also seek out and coordinate with Muslim academics, scholars, and community leaders who oppose ISIS. The thought — and this seems pretty sensible — is that their words may have a stronger impact than those coming directly from the US government. That'll all be done in addition to the center's current activities, which include publishing messages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali to counter terrorist messaging and recruitment elsewhere on the internet, according to the Times.
The strangest part of this strategy is that, in many ways, the US government is really just trying to figure out how to improve its social media presence. "We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content," Richard Stengel, a public diplomacy official with the State Department, tells the Times. Stengel says that this will involve sharing news and opinion stories on Twitter, which is not exactly a novel concept.
Fortunately, the government doesn't need to reinvent the wheel here. It's not like they're going up against social media pros: "These guys aren’t BuzzFeed," Stengel tells the Times. "They’re not invincible in social media."