The social media prowess of ISIS is well documented. The radical Islamic group routinely deploys its vast online presence to recruit from across the globe. Scores of disaffected youth – influenced by the terror group’s omnipresence on virtually all online platforms – have trickled toward the conflict in Syria. In nations ranging from the United Stated to Germany, authorities have prevented citizens from traveling broad or have entertained measures to expedite the legal process by which a government can restrict the passport usage of citizens attempting to join ISIS.
Commentators argue that an effective counter policy has been sorely missing from current tactics for dismantling the terrorist organization and mitigating the damage it causes. A small state agency formed in 2011 called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was established to combat the online communications of ISIS. The agency was bogged down for several years due to minimal government investment. Other government digital communications strategies have backfired, including the “Think Again Look Away” campaign, which provided a means for ISIS supporters and affiliates to tussle online with U.S. officials over infamous events like the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
Recently, government officials, tech companies, and nonprofits have taken steps to improve the online fight against ISIS. In February, the Obama Administration hosted representatives from the private sector and professionals from prominent NGOs to collaborate on solutions. Top-level staff from Twitter and other social media platforms were present. Nonprofits represented at the meeting included the Anti-Defamation League – an organization that works toward abolishing hate-inspired violence – and the the Global Survivors Network – a group that provides support to victims of violent terror.
The strategic solutions discussed involve private tech businesses working with relevant NGOs to identify sources of hate speech, construct efficacious avenues for reporting these abuses, and collate data to better understand patterns of extremist behavior. There are recent precedents, such as one partnership that began late last year to combat sexism. Following the GamerGate controversy of 2014 – in which female game developers and cultural critics were subjected to prolonged misogynistic attacks – Twitter entered a partnership with an organization named Women, Action, & the Media in order to pursue meaningful responses.
Tech giants have rolled out other initiatives for social justice and peace issues. Google launched Against Violent Extremism in 2011 – a hub for former adherents to extremist ideologies and victims of terror from around the globe to collaborate on projects, such as Exit White Power Australia – a group working to discourage recruitment by white supremacist groups.
After the February meeting in Washington, D.C., Twitter announced that it will pursue similiar partnerships with groups working against violent extremism – including the United States’ Anti-Defamation League and France’s International League against and Racism and Anti-Semitism. In addition to these collaborative efforts, Twitter has promoted anti-hate tweets from nonprofits to counteract messages of hate and has trained activists and volunteers on reporting methods.
These partnerships illuminate the potential of tech and nonprofit collaboration. With such powerful and widely used tools at their disposal, private technology firms can harness the expertise and mission-oriented commitment of nonprofit professionals to develop an effective digital infrastructure for counteracting the hate speech and toxic propaganda of terror groups like ISIS.