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Experts: ISIS’s social media terrorist messaging far ahead of US government efforts to counter it.
The U.S. government is a doing a feeble job of countering the Islamic State’s social media propaganda designed to recruit foreign fighters and incite lone wolves into action, several experts said during a Senate hearing. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on how jihadists are using social media was held just a few days after two gunmen were killed in Garland, Texas, trying to attack a contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic State, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has claimed credit for the thwarted attack and warned the U.S. that more attacks are coming. U.S. officials and others have raised doubts whether the terrorist group was behind it. The FBI learned that one gunman, Elton Simpson, had private communications with some prominent terrorists as well as public exchanges on Twitter, but it’s unclear whether the two were lone wolves or were directed by overseas terrorists.
Peter Bergen, who’s the director of the America Foundation’s national security studies program, told Fierce Homeland Security that “the only profile that this group really shared: 53 of the 62 individuals were very active on social media, downloading and sharing jihadist propaganda.”
And, in some cases, as Elton Simpson was doing, some members engaged in direct communicating with members of ISIS in Syria. Bergen added this is a new development in the way jihadist terrorists are recruiting in the United States.
J.M. Berger, a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution, said the Islamic State is in many ways one of the first jihadist groups to “crack” the lone wolf formula, adding that typically such individuals stay home because they aren’t adequately motivated to commit terrorist acts. He said the group offers a low threshold of entry unlike the more elitist al Qaeda, has more of an action-oriented propaganda aimed at violence and describes itself as “winners.”
Moreover, it has expertly conveyed such a message through social media. “What we’re seeing is that social media allows people to self-select the beliefs and information that they receive,” Berger said. “There’s a sense of remote intimacy on social media that can be hard to appreciate if you don’t use it a lot,” he continued. “When you talk to somebody on a social media platform and you talk to them every day you feel like you know them. You feel like they’re somebody who’s in your life. And so somebody tweeting from Syria, who’s a member of ISIS, can develop a very emotionally powerful relationship with somebody who’s sitting in the United States.”