ISIS, or the Islamic State, has had a fair amount of success spreading their message and recruiting people through social media—a task that is far more challenging than many might consider. Think about the level of effort and expertise McDonald’s uses to engage millennials in the digital sphere, and despite a marketing budget that would put some nations to shame, only 20 percent of millennials in America have ever even tried a Big Mac. Using the very same tools and platforms, ISIS has managed to get young people to leave their homes and families to join in their fight, either in places like Iraq or as a “lone wolf” terrorist, often giving up their lives in the process.
This fact wasn’t lost on the U.S. government, which recognized that an important combat theater in the war against ISIS had to be online, where they were continuing to garner support and even recruits from nations all across the globe. Of course, if McDonald’s can put the best social media minds on the planet to work to try to boost Big Mac sales, the government surely must have their own crack team of Arabic-speaking social media experts to fight the good fight in the Twittersphere and elsewhere that ISIS is permitted to publicly engage in recruiting practices…right?
Unfortunately, a recent investigation conducted by the Associated Press found that, although the government does have a team working feverishly to prevent potential recruits from turning to the dark side, they seem to be downright bad at the job.
The responsibility of the WebOps program that falls under U.S. Central Command is to engage with people in social media that are being courted by ISIS and other extremist groups and to try to convince them not to aid in the terrorist organization’s efforts. Doing so requires a thorough understanding of the culture the people live in and the language they use to interact. After all, it can be difficult to understand discussions on Twitter when they are conducted in English without having an appreciation for the digital shorthand of the day, so trying to jump into the middle of a Twitter conversation in Arabic presents a unique challenge that it appears the WebOps program has not been able to effectively manage.