Terrorists’ use of social media has turned the Internet into a battlefield unlike any we have seen before. As a tool for terror, propaganda and recruitment, the Islamic State (ISIS), and other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, have used the Internet in entirely new dimensions. It turns out we have been woefully ill-prepared for this ideological war of ideas, which is taking place online right now.
Recently Congress has begun to demand accountability from the Obama administration on social media. The House Foreign Relations Committee will convene on Wednesday to consider a slew of bills and amendments, among them the highly timely H.R. 3654, the ‘‘Combat Terrorist Use 4 of Social Media Act of 2015.” The bill requires the Obama administration to report to Congress after a period of 90 days on the terrorists’ use of social media as well as a comprehensive strategy for enhancing the ways the administration is planning to counter this threat.
Congressional oversight could not come a moment too soon, as a myriad of questions remain to be asked in regard to recent Islamist attacks regarding social media.
For instance, Tashfeen Malike, the female shooter in the San Bernadino attack, apparently declared her allegiance to ISIS on Facebook as the bloody attack was getting under way.
The Internet has extended the reach of the tentacles of terrorism well into the homeland of the United States and the countries of Europe.
Now, the terrorists use of social media is a symptom of a problem and not the problem per se. Social media represents a human network, which is what makes it so dangerous. We have to fight this network while not compromising the freedom of the internet, and it has to be pared with physical plans to defeat transnational terrorism, which are equally lacking in the Obama administration’s strategic documents.
The rate of attacks outside the Middle East have increased, while the Obama administration appears to be disarming in the war of ideas with radical Islam. One of the key tools of the U.S. government in this particular aspect of the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda has been the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) at the State Department.
According to a report in The Washington Post, this office has come under severe criticism or lack of effectiveness from an internal State Department review. It is losing its recently appointed director Rashied Khalidi to the Justice Department and is facing an uncertain future.
The Obama administration has never been comfortable with a directly confrontational approach to the war of ideas against Islamist radicalism.
The previous director of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, put together a 30-some team of experts who fought the terrorists tweet by tweet, Facebook posting by Facebook posting.
He was replaced last year by Khalidi, a former U.S. ambassador to the Arab League, who is now leaving.
Even though many challenges remain with fighting terrorists’ formidable propaganda presence, this should not make us abandon the effort, but redouble it.