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The Social Media Fight Between the U.S. and ISIS Is Weirder Than You’d Imagine

The U.S. has decided to fight propaganda with propaganda

(Photo: Daryl Visscher/arabianEye/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—the Sunni jihadist group that currently controls some areas of the Middle East—is heavily invested in social media as a recruitment tool.  The terrorist group adeptly uses Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr to reach new recruits and paint a favorable image of the Islamic State. A recent video, for example, showed militants giving enthusiastic young boys ice cream and cotton candy: 

On Tumblr, recent ISIS recruits who have made it to Syria—such as a woman named al-Khanssa—provide practical advice and answers for others seeking to make the move. Are there decent hair driers and straighteners in Syria? "A sister I know just got one yesterday," al-Khanssa says. Can openly gay people join ISIS? "If they want a death sentences they could do whatever they want." And her thoughts on the killing of journalist Steven Sotloff? "I wish I did it." 

The U.S., however, isn't just standing by and letting ISIS dominate social media. The Department of State has launched its own campaign, called "Think Again Turn Away." The idea is to expose what ISIS is really about in the hopes of deterring would-be new recruits. The campaign also directly challenges some of ISIS' own social media messages. Those candy-gobbling kids? There's an ulterior motive there. As the Department of State recently pointed out on Twitter:  

It's unclear whether this campaign is deterring people from becoming terrorists; some social scientists are skeptical.

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