Saturday, March 5th 2016
Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, was recently interviewed by Robin Wright of The New Yorker. The interview, “Is the Islamic State Hurting? The President’s Point Man on ISIS Speaks Out,” was posted on March 3, 2016. Here are McGurk’s comments on “the social-media battle.”
[Q] But ISIS is still active in cyberspace. Twitter announced last January that it had cut off a hundred and twenty-five thousand Twitter accounts related to ISIS, and yet they are still able to recruit. What is the United States doing about it?
[McGurk] Some things are hard to measure. Some things you have to sense. If you’re doing a media campaign for the Washington Redskins, and you’ve lost ten games in a row, you’re going to have a difficult media environment to tell a positive story in. If you’ve won ten games in a row, it’s going to be much easier. So was ISIL’s messaging campaign and messaging strategy really flying high when it looked like they were an unstoppable force? Yes. Is it different now? It’s totally different now. Their chief spokesman’s statements used to be about expanding the caliphate. Now he is trying to explain away their defeats, and saying they’re being tested because Allah is testing them. That’s a very different message. We’re also, in the realm of cyberspace, establishing 24/7 counter-messaging fusion centers, in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia and elsewhere, because each part of the world has a different audience. They are combatting, every day, the various messages that ISIL is putting out.
The gore and the violence get most of the attention, but that’s actually, proportion-wise, one of the smallest segments of ISIL’s over-all messaging. The majority of their messages are sun-drenched scenes of children eating ice-cream cones and of families—this idealized, utopian vision, which is totally a lie. So we’re working with the private sector—with Twitter and Facebook and YouTube—and with our partners around the world, particularly on ISIL’s religious-based messaging, which we can’t counter effectively as Americans but many of our partners can. The main vulnerability in their messaging is that it is not an inherently victorious movement, because it’s quite the opposite.