Interconnectedness has allowed society to take great leaps forward, social media and the internet remain an ungoverned space for nefarious actors. Violent extremist organizations, criminal groups, and state actors have all taken advantage of the anonymity and access afforded by modern technology to plan, execute, and support operations, gaining relative superiority over traditional security structures. As adversaries become more technologically savvy, the United States and its allies must become more adept at leveraging these trends. Open source intelligence, especially when coupled with rapidly improving big data analysis tools, which can comb through data sets that were previously too complex to derive meaningful results, has the potential to offset this growing problem, providing intelligence on enemy forces, partners, and key populations.
To be successful in the long term against the threat of the Islamic State, the United States should focus its power on undermining the organization’s core appeal. The United States must recognize the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, which enhances the attraction to the Islamic State as the best Sunni Army in Syria. All U.S. policy decisions must be informed by the need to guarantee the rights and future of Syrian Sunnis, while anticipating increased threats from the growth of jihadi organizations within Syria.
The United States has spent far more time agonizing over counter-messaging strategy than engaging meaningfully to exploit the Islamic State’s weaknesses on social media. Whether counter-messaging is capable of delivering results or not, the analysis reveals the United States missed opportunities to exploit Islamic State losses.
How can military leaders institutionalise their use of social media for the variety of ‘raise, train, sustain’ functions that are executed on a daily basis? This is not to say that military organisations don’t have a social media presence; they do. In the Australian context, the Army Facebook page has a following nearly ten times the size of the regular Army. The Twitter feed, while having a smaller presence, at least has established a foothold for the Army in the Twittersphere. But presence is not the same as an institution fully exploiting the potential of social media.
Try the “One Tweet” challenge on your own. Capture what you perceive as the essential elements of your own profession or organization, and challenge your peers and subordinates to do the same. Keep in mind that challenges like this often reveal more in what they exclude than what they include. Compare the results and use the similarities and differences to drive a conversation that leads to actions like a “stop doing” list. You might be surprised by the results.