Social media can stop ISIS

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As news spreads of 3,000 additional foreign fighters fleeing to join ISIS, our minds are again drawn to the group’s recruiting strategies. They send an estimated 90,000 social media messages each day, often functioning like a full-service advertising agency.

They’ve found a solution to the question that stumps so many governments and corporations: How to use social media to forge an emotional connection with millennials. Because it’s no longer a question of whether ISIS uses digital media effectively. It’s a question of how we can use these same tools to stop them — a responsibility that, perhaps mistakenly, has fallen to our government.

{mosads}As a veteran of Publicis Groupe’s digital arm, VivaKi, I’ve worked on the social media campaigns of several Fortune 500 companies. It’s obvious to me that the agility, language and authenticity needed to master these platforms requires a skill-set beyond just our government.

I polled a foreign policy advisor, a social media expert and a Muslim community leader to determine a path forward in the digital fight against ISIS. Each conversation put forth unique plans that utilizes these platforms to counteract violent extremism.

  1. A Twitter dialogue between the government and Muslims

Hamid Sirhan is a senior digital strategist with Huge in London. He is also a practicing Muslim.

“Digital media has had a significant — and often negative — impact on Muslims around the world,” Sirhan explained, referring to a groundswell of anti-Muslim reactions following events like the release of American Sniper. “The Twitter-verse is often dominated by racial slurs against our community, after which both the American and British governments are counter-productively silent.”

This is in stark contrast to official reactions to other race-driven events. “When three Israelis were captured and killed… the attack received public condemnations from both John Kerry and Barack Obama’s Twitter accounts,” Sirhan continued. “But when something happens that targets our community, the government is often silent.”

Recommendation: Use Twitter as a place where political leaders can acknowledge issues in the Muslim community.

Take airlines like Delta and Alaska Air who use Twitter to communicate with and sooth disgruntled customers. Our government must think of the Muslim community as “dissatisfied customers.” By providing an outlet for conversation, we can bring them back from the fringes of society.

2. A Facebook page where young Muslims can have open dialogue

Farah Pandith was a political appointee during the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations.

“I’m baffled that the United States can have the world’s most sophisticated private sector for digital media, but cannot get ahead of the ISIS machine,” Pandith said. “Because the people who can be effective are… in places like Silicon Valley, Boston or even Bangalore.” People from companies like Facebook.

Pandith believes private sector companies should get involved. “The current conversation driven by our government is all about the physical war, not the ideological war… There needs to be a social community where oxygen can be brought back to the dialogue around extremism.”

Recommendation: Use Facebook to build off efforts like those from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, where former extremists are able to discuss their experiences with terrorist organizations.

Muslim teens are also feeling neglected by their own community. Fearful of FBI surveillance, many mosques and community centers avoid conversations about ISIS. A Facebook page where they can debate issues facing their community could give them an outlet for these emotions.

It is of utmost importance, however, that this page be only loosely monitored by the government.

3. A YouTube channel where young Muslims can learn about their religion

Jaylani Hussein is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter.

“Many families whose children have been contacted by extremist groups reach out to me for help,” Hussein said. “ISIS is preying on their lack of understanding about Islam. Extremists say it’s their religious duty to join.”

What many people don’t understand is extremist groups twist the Qur’an, guilting teens into joining. “They [say] it’s their duty as a Muslim — that violence is necessary to protect our community. What we need is a platform to explain true Islam, and the duties it really entails.”

Recommendation: A YouTube channel where Muslim leaders can teach about Islam.

Since Muslims are afraid to ask questions at the mosque, YouTube would provide an “anonymous” avenue to learn about their duties as a Muslim. Leaders in the community could utilize the platform to explain how ISIS has twisted the Qur’an, and that being a good Muslim doesn’t necessitate violence.

Siegel is a social media expert and the author of a popular column in Digiday, an advertising trade publication. @emilysiegel

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