When the #JustinBieber hash tag was hijacked by Daesh recently, the news media were quick to get one of the worlds most googled phrases ‘Justin+Bieber’ into their news feeds. Apart from the fact that Daesh had in fact hijacked the #JustinBieber feed – nothing new has been reported in the cascade of stories arising from the News.Com.Au article:
In a worrying ploy that could see the militant organisation’s propaganda exposed to the tens of millions of of mostly young people that follow the megastar… (news.com.au)
Analysts believe ISIS is heavily reliant on social media to recruit members … (Metro UK)
The professionally produced 15 minute video … (Sydney Morning Herald)
Yes, Daesh hijacked the hash tag to promote a new wave of propaganda.
No, this isn’t a new tactic.
Remember when the #WorldCup feed was littered with abhorrent pictures of corpses and heads being used as footballs in 2014? Or when the same tactic was deployed across #Brazil2014 #ENG #France #WC2014 #MUFC #WHUFC #LFC and #THFC?
In the click-bait content war that has been raging since Daesh first started broadcasting it’s propaganda into the Twittersphere, this tactic has been central to their social media warfare campaign. Why? Because it’s what any savvy and opportunistic content marketer would do.
Daesh are effective at content marketing
Perhaps unsurprisingly News.Com.Au‘s analysis on the #JustinBieber hijacking provided no actual insights. From how many twitter followers Justin Beiber has (of little relevance, they didn’t hijack his account) to how the video was professionally produced in high definition with key messaging embedded in the narrative (which has been their extant modus operandi) – the wrap up was old news reported new.
What I did find interesting was the way they associated the story with the Prime Minister’s recent remarks in Washington:
The release of the video comes after a warning from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week that the online campaign against Islamic State must be considerably improved.
… The Iraqi government and other anti-ISIL forces are not reacting quickly enough to contradict ISIL’s online messages which have been used both to recruit new fighters and demoralise those who oppose them, and we should help them with this,” Mr Turnbull said in Washington.
While I have no doubt the Prime Minister’s remarks have been reported out of context, the article is demonstrative of the media’s flawed approach toward reporting on terrorism.
Firstly – no, Daesh aren’t considerably ‘improved’ in their online campaign. We just remain considerably on the defensive and have been since before this war began.
Secondly – accusing the Governments of other countries of not being reactive enough to Daesh’s online messaging is akin to blaming all Catholics for the actions of the IRA or all Christians for the racist diatribes of the far right. Yes, nations in the Middle East have a very important role to play in denigrating Daesh, but we are hardly in a position to criticise them for their lack of social media battlespace acumen.
Australia – and the West in general – is so uncomfortable with the idea of fighting on the social media battlefield that we still have no legitimate narrative or counter narrative on the airwaves. By pointing the finger at our allies, saying they should do better while posturing that obviously we are part of that solution: we only succeed in communicating our arrogance.
The unpopular truth is, neither the Government nor the majority of the Australian news media are willing to have constructive dialogues about countering violent extremism (CVE).
When I spoke at the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s National Conference in late October 2015 about the weaponization of social media I was labelled a ‘PR guru who had too many Boli Stoil’s – is ISIS is ab fab?’ by the Australian while Mumbrella reported ‘that brands could learn social media and content lessons from ISIS.’
That’s not constructive, responsible reporting. It adds nothing to the CVE debate.
It’s clickbait designed to get your troll army excited enough to inflate your web traffic. It’s a profit over people paradigm.
Worse, it actively denigrates the value of the contributions being made to CVE by professionals in the PR, social media, content marketing and communications industries. In the Australian’s case, I also question whether they’d have gone with the same headline if the person making the presentation was male?
When Todd Sampson said as a brand, Daesh are effective at marketing on Gruen days later, the media barely registered it.
If we aren’t willing to have constructive discussions about how terrorists are deliberately undermining our social cohesion – how can we expect to be regarded as useful as partners and allies globally? Our “We can help you with that” rhetoric is a moot point when we don’t have a demonstrable history of strong in-country social cohesion and we we don’t have either a narrative or counter narrative in play.
As Waleed Aly succinctly pointed out on The Project in 2015 – Daesh are manipulating the media to get exactly what they want: and this is something we need to talk about.
This war is about actions, not words
I’ve written before about the disconnect that exists in the West when our narratives and actions tell two different stories. It’s one thing to talk about doing something, but another entirely to put those words into meaningful action. You can’t promote social cohesion by stating the obvious and then pushing responsibility for the issue onto your head of state counterparts when in fact, your own capability is lack lustre.
It’s time the Government and media in Australia started contributing meaningfully to the CVE discussion.
The Government in it’s innovation frenzy needs to think beyond start-ups and into the information domain. They need to build a resilience to what is said about them on social media and have a vision for our information future: both militarily and diplomatically. Internal to Australia communications needs to outweigh external political posturing.
The media need to stop framing headlines and articles for clicks and profit; and take responsibility for the effects their framing has on social cohesion. They need to stop viewing Daesh as being a profit geared source of content and report objectively and consistently leveraging the expertise of those working in the national security environment.
The media have the power to change they way we fight on this battlefield – but will they put people before profit?