In May 2013 I published a blog entitled “Everyone’s talking about Cyber Warfare while Social Warfare is Flying under the Radar.” It received more than it’s fair share of criticism from warfighters and social media strategists alike. Tweets and blogs the new bombs and rockets? Academically people were curious, but like most precognitive ideas, it’s not until someone actually proves a theory that the metaphorical penny drops.
Fast forward to today; where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have effectively weaponized social media – and the rest of the world is trying to play catch up in the war of media narrative dominance.
It’s a war the western world is losing one hashtag at a time.
Today ISIL tried to sneak one of our own across the social-border – John Cantlie, the British War Photographer and Correspondent, appears in the first of a slick ISIL propaganda campaign series #LendMeYourEars.
Whether John Cantlie has been turned, is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after almost two years in captivity or really does believe the words he’s reading from the auto-cue, is irrelevant. He is being used as a weapon against his own Government and their allies.
And it’s not what he has said in his first video – or what he will go on to say throughout the series – the fact is, every time his captors post a new episode of #LendMeYourEars the world will tune in. It’s money can’t buy media coverage. It’s another win in a war with no leading counter narrative to the ISIL led offensive. Who better than to sway the hearts and minds of the western world than a westerner?
Or so you would think.
Weaponizing words via social media, with slick content and gruesome imagery laden in fear and ideological rhetoric is one tactic. Weaponizing prisoners of war and trying to humanize a narrative constructed out fear and bloodshed is a leap into unchartered social territory. Their YouTube views may tell a story of millions of views, shares and likes – but how many westerner swill rally to their cause? Send money? Join their jihad?
For reasons I won’t go into here for fear of giving ISIL a free kick – this tactic will fail.
In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
― Winston Churchill