Senate panel approves three bills to fight ISIS online recruitment

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A Senate committee on Wednesday approved three bills intended to help combat the massive online propaganda wing of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Supporters say the trio of bills, passed by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, will focus and bolster the government’s efforts at countering ISIS’s Internet recruitment campaigns, which lawmakers and experts agrees has been ineffective.

“At the beginning of this Congress, I outlined countering violent extremism … as one of this committee’s top five priorities,” said Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonJudiciary chairman wants FBI briefing on Clinton probe Senate GOP pounces on FBI's Clinton probe Dems back in Wisconsin with M ad blitz MORE (R-Wis.). “So I am pleased that three bills that we are marking up today address a heightened homeland threat from violent extremism.”

One bill would require the White House to put together a “comprehensive strategy to counter and prevent online radicalization,” Johnson said.

Another measure would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more tools to establish courses at DHS-affiliated colleges in which students develop digital counternarratives for teenagers and young adults.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who backed the bill, stumped for his effort during a recent committee hearing on ISIS ideology.

“I’m a little frustrated when it comes to our efforts at counter-messaging,” Booker said.

“That’s just one tool in a toolbox,” he added, “but it’s one that I really don’t believe we’re doing that well.”

The final measure would authorize a DHS Office of Partnerships Against Violent Extremism to help coordinate the agency’s efforts.

The recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., highlighted the power of online recruitment for ISIS.

According to investigators, several of the assailants were radicalized through online communications with ISIS members, or were themselves prominent digital recruiters.

Jessica Stern, a research professor at the Boston University Pardee School for Global Studies, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee last month that the government must boost its efforts to develop its own online narratives for the same people ISIS is trying to recruit.

“One of the major gaps in our response to ISIS is the lack of investment in developing and disseminating effective counternarratives that are compelling to the millennial youth who are ISIS’s principal targets for recruitment,” she said.

“To do this effectively, we need to listen closely to what ISIS says it wants to achieve and to what it claims to offer youth.”