Biggest PR issue of our time could be battle against online extremists

ISIL has got a head start on the West and used sophisticated modern social media and comms techniques to do so.

This month we tackle what could be the single most important communications challenge of the 21st century: Combating the mobilization of thousands of Muslim youth by an extremist organization bent on spreading global terror under the name of Islam.

Not a week goes by without another horrific incident of innocent people being tortured, burned to death, or decapitated in the Middle East as part of what is positioned by the Islamic State organization (ISIL) as an ideological battle founded on religious beliefs that are being successfully sold to disenfranchised young people in the US, UK, and around the world.

ISIL has got a head start on the West and used sophisticated modern social media and comms techniques to do so. And a simple denunciation of its murderous behavior as acts of barbarism isn’t going to solve the underlying issues that attract people to the cause.

If sanity is to prevail and this poisonous philosophy is to be defeated, similarly smart comms tactics must be deployed by the US government and the West and there must be much more understanding of the philosophy and motivation behind ISIL’s ideas. We can’t leave it to the likes of activist hacking group Anonymous to fight these battles.

Governments, security forces, and social media platforms have a duty and responsibility to act – and act quickly.

There is a thin line between denying people the rights to freedom of speech and fomenting terrorist acts, and clearly this is not an easy dividing line for social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

But it would be good if efforts to counter this toxic ideology could somehow be aided by the same fine minds in Silicon Valley that are behind the platforms being subverted for noxious purposes.

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