The Obama administration has launched an effort to counter the propaganda campaign by the Islamic State in a bid to stem the tide of new recruits and the group's financial and global ascendancy, The New York Times reported
The State Department is expanding a small agency within it called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications which will pull together the counter-messaging efforts of other government departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.
It will also coordinate and promote similar messaging by foreign allies and non-government agencies as well as prominent Muslim academics, community leaders, and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State, the Times reported.
The Islamic State and its supporters send out as many as 90,000 tweets and other social media communications every day, according to the Times, and American officials say it is a significant challenge to stop the group's digital momentum.
"We're getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating, and amplifying existing content," Richard Stengel, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, told the Times.
The plans are still being developed but officials told the Times that it will explain the strategy during an upcoming three-day conference, which will also be aimed at helping communities fight the efforts of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Local leaders from around the U.S. will attend with foreign ministers from more than 60 nations, and President Barack Obama will speak twice during the event, the Times said.
The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was created in 2011 at the direction of the president and has mainly focused on counter-messaging against extremist groups aligned with al-Qaida. Digital outreach specialists that are fluent in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali are also on staff to counter terrorist propaganda and misinformation about the United States in real time, the Times said.
They also post messages on English-language websites used by extremists to recruit and fundraise.
The online effort involves creating a narrative that competes with the one of extremists and is designed to strike an emotional chord with potential militants who may be considering joining an extremist group. Some of the posts have graphic content to dissuade potential recruits, suggesting an untimely death. Each of the online posts include a strapline: "Think again. Turn away."
The agency will also use more than 350 State Department Twitter accounts, combining embassies, consulates, media hubs, bureaus, and individuals along with accounts from the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department and foreign allies, the Times said.
"These guys aren't BuzzFeed; they're not invincible in social media," Stengel said.
The program, however, has some detractors who question whether it is capable of meeting the challenge, saying in the past that the department hasn't been properly supported or financed.
"Its main shortcoming was that it operated too independently and rarely integrated its efforts with others in the federal government focused on countering violent extremism," John Cohen, a former top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security told the Times.
"When the U.S. government works with faith communities, including the Arab-American and Muslim community, to prevent violence at the local level in the U.S., that is not only effective but it also serves to counter the narrative we are at war with Islam," he said.
The newly empowered organization will include a new unit called the Information Coordination Cell which will be staffed by intelligence and Pentagon analysts responsible for broader coordination.
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