US cyber-warriors battling Islamic State on Twitter

August 31, 2014 by Nicolas Revise
An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 13, 2014 allegedly shows Islamic State militants clashing with Iraqi soldiers at an undisclosed location close to the Iraqi-Syrian border

The United States has launched a social media offensive against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, setting out to win the war of ideas by ridiculing the militants with a mixture of blunt language and sarcasm.

Diplomats and experts are the first to admit that the digital blitz being waged on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube will never be a panacea to combat the jihadists.

But US officials see as an increasingly crucial battlefield as they aim to turn young minds in the Muslim world against groups like IS and Al-Qaeda.

For the past 18 months, US officials have targeted dozens of social network accounts linked to Islamic radicals, posting comments, photos and videos and often engaging in tit-for-tat exchanges with those which challenge America.

At the US State Department, employees at the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), created in 2011, manage an Arabic-language Twitter account set up in 2012 (https://.com/DSDOTAR), an English-language equivalent ( and a Facebook page, launched this week, (

'Many skirmishes, few battles'

A senior US State Department official described the strategy as a kind of cyber guerrilla campaign.

"It is not a panacea, it is not a silver bullet," the official explained. "People exaggerate, people think this is worthless or they think it a magic thing that will make the extremists surrender. It is neither one of those. It is slow, steady, daily engagement pushing back on a daily basis.

"It is a war of thousands of skirmishes, but no big battles. America likes big battles but it is not—it is like guerrilla warfare," said the official.

The murder of US journalist James Foley, whose execution by Islamic State militants on August 19 was released in a video on the Internet, jolted the new breed of US cyber-warriors into a frenzy.

Since Foley's murder, the CSCC has ramped up its Twitter campaign, posting tributes to the slain reporter, opinion pieces and analyses on radical Islam from across the international media, along with cartoons and graphic photos.

The State Department last week tweeted about the death in Syria of Islamic State members, one of whom, Abu Moussa, had recently declared that the group would one day "raise the flag of Allah in the White House."

US officials have targeted dozens of social network accounts linked to Islamic radicals, posting comments, photos and videos and often engaging in tit-for-tat exchanges with those which challenge America

Another tweet congratulated militant Yazidis who claimed to have killed 22 Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

Another post was more in keeping with the sober diplomatic tone Washington is used to, a photo-montage showing Syria's leader Bashar Al-Assad alongside Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in front of a city in ruins.

"Baghdadi and Assad in a race to destroy Syria - don't make it worse," reads a message.

Historic parallels

The US-managed Twitter accounts are also not squeamish about reproducing images distributed by jihadists depicting mass executions, drawing historic parallels between Islamic State militants and the Nazis.

One post showed armed Islamic State fighters standing over a ditch filled with executed people, alongside another almost identical image of Nazis killing people in similar circumstances.

"Then & Now: Nazis – like ISIS – murdered out of intolerance, hatred, zeal," read a comment alongside the two images.

Satire is also used to undermine militants, with one re-tweeted cartoon referring to the "ISIS bucket challenge" featuring a participant named as "the civilized world" being drenched by a bucket of blood.

The US officials say the social media offensive is an attempt to "contest space" on social networks which had previously been dominated by Islamist radicals.

"This is an area, a field, where before we came along the adversaries had this space to themselves," the official explained.

"You had English language extremists that could say any kind of poison and there will be very low push-back against them," he added. The ultimate aim is to make youths in the West or Muslim nations think twice before embarking on a journey to Syria or Iraq to join Islamic State fighters.

US officials are also mindful of striking the right tone as they troll Islamists.

"Twitter is unfortunately or fortunately a platform which is suitable for what we call snark, sarcasm, for insulting people," the official said. "This is something also we are trying to do, we try to attack.

"We are respectful about things, the loss of human life of innocent people, victims of AQ or victims of ISIS, that is not something for sarcasm.

"But when you are mocking them, it is effective to draw the comparison between what they say and what they do. The hypocrisy of this group is a weakness."

William Braniff, executive director of National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, said the US online strategy was a step in the right direction but would take a while to yield results.

"For a decade the government is criticized for not engaging in the world of ideas online," Braniff said.

"The department of State eventually created this program in part to address that criticism.

"This is a just a drop in a bucket—there is so much extremist propaganda online and so many formats for extremists to dialogue that this is really just spitting into the wind.

"We have to give these sort of programs time to build momentum."

Explore further: For jihadists, social media a platform to recruit, spread fear

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Lex Talonis
2 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2014
Yes but everyone knows that the American Government and the US military industrial complex - the bankers and the bomb makers, are a criminal syndicate.

Corporation USA, spreading peace and democracy to the middle east....

They have got oil, and the Merkins have got guns....

And the US state dept is just a bunch of tax payer funded gangsters working out ways to rob anyone of everything, and kill everyone who refuses to be compliant and gets in their way.

We know your a pack of cunts.....

The whole world does.

Face it America - the world hates you.

3 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2014
We know your a pack of ...

You know, this kind of diatribe would probably be a lot more effective if you learned correct grammar and didn't resort to swearing insult. But I guess that's commensurate with your level of intelligence and education, eh?

the world hates you.

Maybe they do but the world hates religious fanatics like ISIS more.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2014
So let me get this straight: the US government is now trolling ISIS at on-line sites.

And they think trolling wins hearts and minds?

Someone really needs to sit down with these guys and explain how things actually work in the real world.
not rated yet Sep 01, 2014
@Urgelt ,white trolling is needed!

Imagine, 2 people cursing each other out in Youtube comment due to disagreement, then... BAM! an expert dump a baggage of fact. Lead to utter defeat of one side...
1 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2014
So let me get this straight: the US government is now trolling ISIS at on-line sites.

And they think trolling wins hearts and minds?

Someone really needs to sit down with these guys and explain how things actually work in the real world.

Welcome to the real world. Your loss if you don't believe skillfully employed words can be used to benefit one side or harm the other in a conflict. Should I expect you also don't believe marketing and advertising help companies sell products? Pundits achieve prominence by accident? Lawyers win cases by blandly presenting facts? Politicians expect to gain anything useful by campaigning and making speeches?
1 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2014
certainly ALCIADA was an American construct - even sweet Hillary admits that - ISIS-ISIL - a much nicer acronym has market appeal yet does owe its origin to $upport from the US and its ME allies - should have put in a backdoor like the NSA does with its telecom minions eliminating the need for comedy writers;.

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