As the United States and others begin significant airstrikes on ISIS, ISIS has taken to social media to attempt to disseminate images of civilian deaths it claims are results of the strikes. To counter these social media posts, the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, led by Mr. Richard A. Stengel, has coordinated a social campaign to compliment the military one.
The campaign, called “Think Again Turn Away” posts on various social media outlets; many posts are responses to ISIS posts. Outside of the current campaign, the organization has provided the State Department a venue that isn’t censored by local governments.
Although President Obama’s choice to make social media a priority feels someone similar to what we read about in the case study, there are some distinct differences that make me wonder if this can be as effective. According to the NYT article, critics of this organization “have questioned whether this effort is large, nimble or credible enough.” It only has fifty employees working on the Think Again Turn Away campaign to thousands of members posting on behalf of ISIS. The group has been accused of being sarcastic; a troubling accusation given the gravity of that which they comment on. Furthermore, a 2006 study of results of US radio and television messages found that audiences’ views on American policy were worsened by the knowledge that they were being manipulated.
There is a modern adage that when you kill one terrorist, you create two. The article concludes with Mr. Stengel asserting that you can’t overestimate the value of preventing even one new member to ISIS. Social media, used by ISIS, can form a strong negative response to the airstrikes. It is understandable that the State Department tries its best to counter ISIS’s coloring of the attacks.
This leads me to ask three questions. Is it useful to respond to ISIS’s social media presence at all, or should the State Department leave that to Middle Eastern countries that have participated in the airstrikes? Given that the State Department is responding, is social media, with all of its pitfalls, the best venue for that response? If so, are there ways to make it more effective?