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Social Media

Social Media

"Social media is another component of unconventional strategies, and the security environment in general, that is playing a central role in recruiting individuals to causes. We must therefore develop our ability to interact with key influencers through this medium, or else risk blinding ourselves to this important conduit of information and influence in unfolding crises. We all must view this space as routine operational area; it is redefining how humans interact. Our success in leveraging these tools will be determined by how well we cultivate the networks in which we participate; it is important to note that these are not 'our' networks - the very nature of these relationship tools is decentralized and participatory, rather than centrally controlled. We require new thinking on this subject". 
Statement of General Joseph Votel, USSOCOM Commander, before the House Armed Services Committee, March 18, 2015.
Twitter

By now everyone who studies or works within the conflict area in today's world should be aware of the growth of importance of social media. Some of our opponents have proved very adept at the use of social media to recruit fighters and supporters for their cause and to influence the conversation about their movement. One excellent example is the Islamic State.

Islamic State and Twitter. Unknown to many Americans is the fact that there are a few U.S. organizations that are actively engaged in a 'Twitter' fight with the Islamic State. The effectiveness of this fight is still to be determined. It is very likely that it is ". . . like most governmental campaigns, long on bureaucracy and short on details". Adam Weinstein, writing for Wired.com has several recommendations for the U.S. social media organizations. You can read them in "Here's How the US Should Fight ISIS with Social Media", (March 12, 2015). Some of these recommendations could be of use in Afghanistan.

Center Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC). The website for the U.S. Department of State's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications is www.state.gov/r/cscc/. Read a news report on the CSCC by Hayes Brown (Think Progress, September 18, 2014) - "Meet the State Department Team Trying to Troll ISIS into Oblivion". Unfortunately, it appears that there are only about 20 "Tweeters" working at the CSCC. 1.

Social media is also important in a counterinsurgency fight - as in Afghanistan. Many see the Afghan counterinsurgency effort focused on three areas; security, governance, and development. Some COIN adherents would add a fourth - information operations, inform and influence activities, or social media - pick your favorite phrase.

In the past ISAF has had a dismal record in the information operations field and were clearly outclassed by the Taliban - the Taliban could post a video of a roadside IED attack against a Coalition convoy on social media within an hour. For the most part the Taliban smoked ISAF in the IO fight; although ISAF did have some bright moments and effective practices (use of the RIAB for instance). ISAF would tell you they have an abundance of TVs, radio stations, and print media where the Afghan government's message was being carried. But the reach of those media outlets is limited to urban areas and households with radios, TVs, and a not so literate population. In the rural areas (that is the contested areas where the COIN fight takes place) a 'night letter' tacked on your front door by insurgents has much greater effect. Resolute Support HQs (replacing ISAF) is continuing the IO effort; with some success stories. They are doing a much better job at informing the public through its use of Facebook, Twitter and their website. At the same time RS HQs has reduced the frequency of 'cheerleader' news releases that discredited their message - something which plagued ISAF in the past with reduced credibility.

While the Coalition continues its efforts in this area of the conflict (IO and the use of social media) it is also working to improve the Afghan's capability to conduct Strategic Communications through its advisors working in Essential Function 8 - STRATCOM. The best example of the Afghans conducting work in this field could be the Afghan RMIC located in Mes-e-Sharif (TAAC North's AO - the Europeans can take some credit for this). The RMIC has their own website (Bayanshamal) up and running supporting the Afghan governments message. Something the other TAACs should check out. It is worth the visit to Camp Marmal to see what right looks right when it comes to Afghan IO. (And you can always sneak into one of the many discreet pubs for a beer or two!).

ISIS is not the only One with a 'Troll Army'. Russia is proving its dominance of the social media through its troll army based in St. Petersburgh. It employs hundreds of people to flood the Internet with messages that support the Russian regime. 2.   

Unofficial Voices of the Military. While the official efforts of the U.S. government and military may be constrained by lack of money, personnel, motivation, vision, and planning - there is some hope. Millions of servicemen and women of the military are engaged in social media everyday spreading their message to family and friends via Facebook, Istagram, Twitter, YouTube, and email. 3. 


Papers and Pubs on Social Media in Afghanistan

2017

Bodetti, Austin Michael, Taliban's Propaganda War, Offiziere.ch.
http://offiziere.ch/?p=30832

2016

Brooking, Emerson T., "War Goes Viral: How social media is being weaponized across the world", The Atlantic, November 2016.
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/war-goes-viral/501125/

AAN, ISKP's Battle for Minds: What are its main messages and who do they attract?, Afghanistan Analysts Network, by Borhan Osman, December 12, 2016. The Islamic State in Afghanistan uses social media and propaganda to expand its support and promote a distinct brand of Salafi-jihadism.
www.afghanistan-analysts.org/iskps-battle-for-minds-what-are-their-main-messages-and-who-do-they-attract/

2015

AISS, Social Media and Articulation of Radical Narratives in Afghanistan, by Niamutallah Ibrahimi, Musab Omer, and Mohammad Irfani, November 2015. Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies.
www.aiss.af/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Social-Media-and-Articulation-of-Radical-Narratives-in-Afghansitan-Soft-Copy.pdf


News Reports on Social Media

July 10, 2017. "Taliban Propaganda Meets the Digital Age", Gandhara. A writer and cultural advisor at the Afghan embassy in Washington D.C. provides a detailed account of the Taliban use of social media.

May 2016. "Special Operators Seek New Social Media Tools", National Defense Magazine. VATC, a small business in Tampa, Florida, has developed a training tool to integrete social media into SOF exercises.

February 28, 2016. "Battleground now includes social media". The Tampa Tribune. Michael Lumkin, recently appointed as head of counter-Daesh messaging for the State Department provides his comments on social media.

December 3, 2015. "Cubic Looks to Train Soldiers to Use Social Media as Battlefield Tool", Defense News. The use of the Social Media Replication Tookit System will help Soldiers train in the use of social media on the battlefield.

 


 


Endnotes

1. For more on CSCC's tweeting capacity read "Pentagon: State Doesn't Have Enough People Tweeting at ISIS", Defense One, October 22, 2015.

2. Read about Russia's troll army in Everything you wanted to know about trolls but were afraid to ask, ShareAmerica, November 4, 2015.
https://share.america.gov/trolls-everything-you-wanted-to-know/

3. Read about use of social media by individual members of the U.S. military in "From Army of One to Band of Tweeters", by John Spencer, The New York Times, November 5, 2015.

 


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