With all eyes on Iraq and Syria, have military forces around the world learned anything from the social media success of ISIL?
I’m going to make a bold prediction here and state that while the world is fixated on the social media jihad being waged out of the Middle East – terrorist groups in Norther Africa are flying under the radar as they take notes on ISIL’s social media successes and failures while busily re-engineering their strategies.
Because like life itself (if you subscribe to the cradle of life theory of evolution) social media warfare had it’s beginnings in Africa. What the terrorist group Al-Shabbab started in Northern Africa in 2011 with a western social media offensive, ISIL turned into an well organised social media jihad less three years later. If you haven’t already read the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence’s 2012 report ‘Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab’s Western Media Strategy’ digest it well.
Read it and consider why we were all so surprised with ISIL’s social media jihad. Why it was so effective. Why it happened at all.
Why it could all happen again.
While the headlines of the world are counting the westerners joining ISIL’s ranks – here’s what the key actors in Africa are up to (updated) ASPI’s yearbook.
If you’re looking at those numbers thinking – pfftt – that’s no threat – think again.
ISIL achieved considerable success before it amassing thousands of supporters and vigilantes via it’s slick recruitment campaign. It’s social media jihad, which in turn fed into the larger machinery of the online news media cycle – enabled it to make significant public inroads into mainstream conciousness before it had the physical capability to continue it’s mission.
Any one of these African groups could do the same.
Numbers on the ground only matter within the constructs of asymmetrical warfare: even then they only need enough boots on the ground to get the job done, and a videographer or photographer to capture the footage to be able to propagate their messages of extremism. This then leads to recruitment which leads to more press, which leads to more numbers and supporters – which leads to more press.
Do you see the cycle?
While ISIL continue to amass a terrorist army from almost every nation in the world: controlling or even interjecting in this narrative is futile as the paradigm of recruitment replication proceeded the west’s presence in the social media sphere. While counter-information operations strategies will have their place; it is exceedingly hard to overrun an enemy that has been lapping you for months on the race track.
The solution? Be proactive. Be part of the narrative before a crisis emerges.
Failing that: start a new narrative and shift the conversation.
Become the newsrooms of the war. Get content marketing savvy. Know your big data play. Be the source the news media go to to sell their news.
Fill people’s Twitter feeds and Facebook walls with your new narrative; cut the Terrorists out of their own market.
Your time starts …. now.
Watching brief: Social Media Warfare out of Africa.