by Abigail Watson
If the government continues to refuse comment on most of its counterterrorism activity abroad it will struggle to win what is increasingly a war of narratives and the strategic use of (dis)information.
Terrorist groups around the world are increasingly placing as much emphasis on winning wars of words as they are battles on the ground. In fact, WIRED recently described ISIS as being “as much a media conglomerate as [a] fighting force.” It has revolutionised the dissemination of its radicalising material, shunning the secret and password-encrypted caution of predecessors such as Al-Qaeda, in favour of open-source social media posts and high-quality footage that is instantly accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
In contrast, the UK and its allies appear to be faltering in 21st century responses. In September 2015, the UK launched the “Counter-Daesh Communications Cell” and has, like the US, created a counter-Daesh twitter page to better communicate its policies in the conflict against ISIS. The US and partners have also met in attempts to establish “a messaging coalition, to complement what’s going on the ground.” The evidence, however, suggests that these efforts are not working.
A leaked internal assessment by the US State Department admitted to poor progress, concluding “the Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively trumped the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations.” Charlie Winter and Jordan Bach-Lombardo recently concluded in The Atlantic: “As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum.”