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Monday, June 20th 2016
On June 16, 2016, the Center for a New American Security issued a report by its ISIS Study Group – “Defeating the Islamic State: A Bottom-Up Approach.” It was prepared by Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas A. Heras, and Paul Scharre.
Public Diplomacy specialists will note the report not only recommends what the United States must do about online radicalization; it counsels what it should not. For instance, “More emphasis should be placed on . . . targeting and less on content.” Excerpts from the report’s final section on “Counter the Transnational Network in Europe and the United States” follow:
- The growth of social media combined with the greater ease of travel into war zones has increased the capacity of ISIS to recruit adherents in the West, train and indoctrinate them in Syria and Iraq, and then deploy them to their home countries to execute major attacks such as those in Paris and Brussels. It has also enabled ISIS to inspire homegrown terrorists, such as the December 2015 attack in San Bernardino.
- Tackling this problem requires more effective counter-radicalization programming to detect and stop the process, and more effective intelligence and law enforcement actions to stop the movement of foreign fighters.
- The radicalization process is very localized; pockets of extremism appear not in entire countries but in specific communities. For example, the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels or the Somali community in Minneapolis, which became a recruiting ground for al-Shabaab.
- This problem therefore requires a localized community-based response. It should offer non-law enforcement alternatives for parents, friends, teachers, and others to raise flags with a community organization without fear that this will lead to an immediate resort to law enforcement.
- The approach is based on building a network of adult community leaders who then receive training and information on how to spot trouble signs, the resources available to deal with such a situation, and assistance with professional intervention. It is grounded in a local history of dealing with previous minority or immigrant groups that also felt alienated by society, often leading them to extremism.
- The U.S. government should stay out of the business of establishing these types of organizations. But it can expand federal funding and play a facilitating role by supporting training of organizational leaders, bringing these types of organizations together to share best practices, and help set common standards and strategies.
- In the online domain, efforts focus heavily on taking down extremist content as quickly as possible, as well as finding and suspending key accounts of Syria- and Iraq-based ISIS online leadership, which coordinates messaging and sets the agenda that ISIS followers then echo to spread the word.
- A second effort has focused on developing targeted counter-radicalization content that hits the desired audience. There is no shortage of such content, but the challenge is getting it to the right audience.
- In the private sector, the large majority of online advertising dollars goes not to generating content but to digital advertisers that have become so capable of using tools developed by social media companies to segment and target a desired audience. More emphasis should be placed on this targeting and less on content.