WASHINGTON: The US government is struggling to counter the Islamic State group’s fast-paced online propaganda, which played a role in inspiring a failed attack in Texas this week on an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
One of the two gunmen had been in frequent contact via Twitter with an American militant from the IS group who was well known to federal authorities, according to groups that monitor extremists online.
The failed attempt to storm the cartoon exhibition in a Dallas suburb could be a “harbinger” of things to come, as the jihadist online blitz seeks to encourage violence from a distance, said author Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation non-profit group.
The lightning tempo and vast scale of the IS group’s social media campaign poses a daunting challenge, particularly for a government bureaucracy ill-equipped to respond quickly or to experiment, experts said Thursday.
The IS can rely on “a very large number of people” to promote their message online and “it can afford to have 2,000 people who tweet 150 times a day,” said J.M. Berger, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“It can afford to have a ratio of two or three recruiters to every one potential recruit who might carry out a lone wolf attack,” Berger, who has researched extremists’ use of social media, told the Senate Homeland Security committee.
The United States or others opposed to the IS are losing the war in social media and will need to deploy similar numbers to have an effect, said Berger, author of “Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.”
Although the IS jihadists tried to take credit for Sunday’s attack, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said the group had not ordered the assault but had nevertheless “inspired” the men to carry it out.
He said it was “concerning that there are individuals like this who draw their inspiration” from the group.
Social media enabled the IS to find a small but committed group of sympathizers and forge intense connections, Berger said.
“Somebody tweeting from Syria, who’s a member of ISIS (IS), can develop a very emotionally powerful relationship with somebody who’s sitting in the United States,” he said.
Berger and other experts called on US officials to declassify photos, videos, intercepted communications or other intelligence that could expose the failures and excesses of the jihadists in areas in Iraq and Syria under its control.