Sunday, January 17, 2016

Quotable: Patrick Tucker reports on the new Global Engagement Center

Saturday, January 16th 2016
The technology editor of Defense One, Patrick Tucker, reported on America’s New Plan to Fight ISIS Online,” on January 11, 2016.  The subhead of the article was, “The State Department will diversify its one-way approach, while other agencies reach out to Silicon Valley.”  The full article provided details of many efforts in the U.S. government to “fight ISIS messaging via social media.” 

Tucker ended the article with this quote from Rand Waltzman:  “I don’t know if I would exactly use the word ‘fraudulent’ to describe the President’s planned ‘shake-up in propaganda war against ISIS’ — perhaps Potemkin Scenery is a more accurate term. But whichever term you use, I am confident that the result will be the same: nothing . . .”  Here are some key points:

  • . . . State Department officials announced that they would revamp their efforts to counter ISIS messaging online — among other ways, by opening a new “Global Engagement Center.”

  • That same day, the President and various high-ranking members of the national security establishment met with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other Internet powerhouses to discuss how the United States can fight ISIS messaging via social media.

  • But recently released documents from the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office show that the government is planning an aggressive and multi-faceted campaign whether or not it has the cooperation of social media companies or telecommunications companies.

  • The first priority for the State Department’s new Center will be to avoid the mistakes of the past. The “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign, which had but 20 staffers, five or which were from the Defense Department, drew much criticism. Part of the problem: it didn’t engage people in the Muslim world directly. Rather it was a one-way communications channel with all the persuasiveness of a government anti-litter campaign.

  • State’s new Center aims to have more engagement with third parties and people that can actually engage with humans on social networks, not just post messages at them; and it will use data to tailor messages and campaigns. The Center will also provide “seed funding and other support to NGOs and media startups focused on countering violent extremist messaging,” according to a statement.

  • Read that to mean more funding for marketing groups, NGOs, and others on the ground in countries where the U.S. is working to counter ISIS messaging. Those recommendations are in line with what many have said the State Department should have been doing all along.

  • They also echo some of the changes that Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, said that he wanted to make.

  • “As things are developed, just as our enemies target specific audiences, we … have to have unique messages directed to these nine different bins,” Lumpkin told a House Armed Services Committee Hearing last fall. Lumpkin will be leaving his position with the Defense Department to lead the new Center, the Defense Department confirmed.

  • No social media company is eager embrace ISIS, but different platforms have different approaches to dealing with extremists.

  • On one end of the spectrum is Facebook, which already takes an aggressive approach to keeping ISIS off the network, banning not only violent videos and speech but “content that expresses support for groups that are involved in the violent or criminal behavior mentioned above. Supporting or praising leaders of those same organizations, or condoning their violent activities.”

  • Twitter, meanwhile, has terms of service rules that forbid posting explicit or violent content. But a simple statement or support for a group like ISIS is a much murkier matter. By some estimates, there are 45,000 pro-ISIS accounts on Twitter; others go as high as 90,000.

  • But Twitter isn’t the only platform that ISIS turns to get its message out. They also use a service called Telegram, among others. They also direct messaging on Twitter as well as public posts.

  • Rand Waltzman, a former program manager with the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or DARPA, believes that the announced changes don’t go nearly far enough. While at DARPA, he ran a nearly $50 million “Social Media in Strategic Communication” program to reveal how extremists, and other potential adversaries, are able to use social media effectively.

  • “Unfortunately, the U.S. is unable to effectively take advantage of social media and the Internet due to poorly conceived U.S. policies and antiquated laws. For example, US Law 50 U.S. Code § 3093(f) effectively prohibits our intelligence community from action ‘intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media,’” he wrote last year in TIME magazine.

  • He described the announcement of the new Center as little more than a cheap ruse.

  • “I don’t know if I would exactly use the word ‘fraudulent’ to describe the President’s planned ‘shake-up in propaganda war against ISIS’ — perhaps Potemkin Scenery is a more accurate term. But whichever term you use, I am confident that the result will be the same: nothing,” he said.

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