The CSS Blog Network

Marketing to Extremists: Waging War in Cyberspace

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 9 July 2017.

Online, the Islamic State is a technologically savvy, sophisticated, and nimble organization that learns from its mistakes and from the actions of the Western intelligence services and NGOs that have sought to counter it. It is no secret that past and current efforts to reach potential terrorists before they can become radicalized and committed to a path of jihad and terrorism have proved inadequate. To use the language of online marketers, countering ISIS’s online activities will require quality content disseminated on a massive scale, with careful product placement. Placing counter-messaging products into platforms and forums that extremists frequent will increase the chances of potential terrorist recruits coming into contact with narratives outside of ISIS’ control.

ISIS’s cyber efforts have paid off; the FBI told Congress in July 2016 that “the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago.”[i] The number of foreigners who have been inspired by the Islamic State’s online propaganda to travel to Syria and Iraq (or elsewhere) and participate in the fighting is unclear, but most estimates place the tally at more than 20,000. Others have been set on the path of radicalization by ISIS’s online propaganda and have become “lone wolf” attackers in the United States or in Europe.[ii] Demographically speaking, the people who ISIS is most interested in targeting for recruitment came of age in the twenty-first century as “digital natives”; they have lived their entire lives surrounded by ubiquitous online communications and have embraced it in technologically sophisticated ways.[iii] ISIS knows how to appeal to these potential jihadis. Reaching them with counter-messages will require a sophisticated and multi-faceted approach.

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The Islamic State’s Internal Rifts and Social Media Ban

Image courtesy of wiredforlego/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) on 21 June 2017.

An important part of the Islamic State’s meteoric rise to power in Syria and Iraq was due at least in part to its creative use of social media tools to distribute propaganda and recruit new members. The group’s well-documented social media skills have attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters to join the fight. As documented by the CTC weeks before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established the caliphate in Mosul, the Islamic State propaganda machine also served a critical role in psychological operations during the group’s blitzkrieg advance into northwestern Iraq in June of 2014.

It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that the group has issued an official ban on social media for all of its soldiers. In a document (see below) produced by the Islamic State’s Delegated Committee a few weeks ago and disseminated via Islamic State distribution channels more recently, the group’s order to all of its soldiers stated: “effective from the date of this notification, using social networking sites is entirely and completely forbidden. Whoever violates this exposes himself to questioning and accountability.” The order was published by the group in both Arabic and English.

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In a Deluge of New Media, Autocrats Swim and Democracies Sink

Courtesy of id-iom/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by World Affairs on 1 Mai 2017.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the beginning of the century, the spread of the internet, satellite television, and other media technologies was expected to break down old monopolies and political boundaries, making it nearly impossible for those in power to control what people read, watch, and hear.

Digital media have indeed expanded around the world at lightning speed in the years since, reaching populations that previously received news only from state broadcasters.

Nevertheless, press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to Freedom House’s latest annual report. Just 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are ranked as fully “free.”

What the optimists failed to take into account was that forces interested in maintaining control over news and political discourse would not simply accept the inevitability of their own demise, but would fight back and look for new opportunities to increase their dominance.

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Talking Policy: Parag Khanna on Connectography

Facebook Connections

Facebook Connections, courtesy of Michael Coghlan/flickr

This interview transcript was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 13 May 2016.

The world is becoming more connected by the day. Whether through the Internet and social media or through increased international trade, the world today does not look the same as it did 100 years ago. According to Parag Khanna, leading global strategist and award-winning author of numerous books including his latest, Connectography, these links are only going to increase in the future. World Policy Journal spoke with Khanna to discuss the concept of connectography and what the connected future holds for politics, people, and the environment.

WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: In your new book Connectography, you suggest that the current global order is changing. How exactly is this happening, and what does the world of the future look like in your opinion?

PARAG KHANNA: Right, so, the premise is that the forces of connectivity—transportation, energy, innovations, but also capital market, cultural integration, trade, and so forth—are reshaping the meaning of geography and the extent to which political geography based at the boundaries dictate our fate versus the connective forces that make connectivity more our destiny than the geography has been for now, or up until now. And that’s the pattern that you need to take a step back and take a 5,000-year view to appreciate. So we’ve reached the sort of tipping point where that connectivity does in fact matter more than divisions. And we have so much connectivity across political borders, and yet we have so few wars along those borders. So we no longer really fight over a border. Instead we are now fighting over connectivity. But we’re also benefiting from connectivity greatly at the same time. So that’s where you get a picture of the world that’s really far more complex than what we’ve had here before.

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Moldova: Examining the Russian Media Factor in Protests

Vladimir Putin at the Russia Today studios. Image: Kremlin.ru/Flickr

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.org on 11 September, 2015.

The ongoing protest in the Moldovan capital Chișinău is posing a fresh test of Russian state-controlled media’s ability to project Kremlin geopolitical preferences.

Regional analysts assert that Moscow is viewing the protest as another Western-orchestrated, Euromaidan-like disturbance that constitutes a threat to Russian national interests. Not surprisingly, then, Russian broadcasters and print outlets are striving to shape a news narrative in which the protest is an expression of the population’s discontent with Moldova’s European Union integration efforts. » More

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