When it comes to the threat posed by Islamic State, the nihilistic jihadist group terrorizing the Middle East, one of the core fears shared by Western intelligence agencies is their recruitment effort. This savvy drive has been conducted, primarily, via digital media. Uploading YouTube clips, tweeting to people and Instagramming to their hearts content they have managed to bypass traditional media outlets in order to reach the disaffected young men and women themselves. Through this, they are able to coerce some to join ISIS or commit attacks on their home soil. Recently, here in Australia, there were a number of arrests based on those who have been in contact with ISIS recruiters.
But, every now and then, someone does something stupid. Take this man for instance
“These guys that are working down at Hurlburt (Florida), they’re combing through social media. And they see some moron standing at this command and control capability for Da’Esh, ISIL. These guys go, ‘ah we got an in,'” Carlisle said at a speech in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday.
Twenty-two hours after seeing the post, U.S. warplanes went in for the kill.
You read it correctly. The U.S. Air Force used Instagram to target someone in another country. Incredible.
Social Media and War
Social media is both a friend and a foe to a modern military. Many fear that social and digital media, so often a part of young soldiers lives, will harm the operational security which is essential for the element of surprise. In Israel, where social media flourishes, there was a prevailing fear that too many people were having group conversations through text message application WhatsApp. The fear was that these people would be discussing troop movements, orders or other sensitive information and would be prone to hacking by the enemy (Hamas and Hezbollah backed by Iran). Unlike in many countries, Israel has a conscript army and therefore it is ingrained in every facet of society.
Because of the prevalence of social media in Israel it has allowed an unvarnished look at the role the army plays. When Israel was recently in conflict with the Hamas in Gaza it called up numerous reserve troops. Many of these troops took selfies on Instagram (as our now ex-ISIS fighter did) of themselves in their army uniforms or getting ready to go down to the front. It painted a bizarre picture of young men and women heading off to war. Normally, such actions are tightly controlled by the armies for propaganda purposes. The fact that so many Israelis had cellphones meant that so many pictures were taken. It was impossible to stop the deluge of photos on the picture sharing website. The world was able to see these young soldiers preparing for the inevitability of war.
But the ‘unvarnished look’ can also reveal far more frightening aspects of military life. This particular photo ended up going viral for all the wrong reasons.
The photo outraged the Israeli and international community and the soldier was stood down from his post. These photos are easily pounced on for propaganda reasons and critics of Israel used it as a way to highlight the horrors of the occupation.
But the IDF also uses social media to its advantage. They were one of the first militaries to create a team dedicated solely to social media. The team, the New Media Desk, falls under the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and is involved in pushing out content and engaging with people through social media. Starting in 2006 with a basic blog they now have a highly sophisticated and professional digital strategy which works around the clock. The IDF team have been known to respond within moments of an attack, be it in Gaza or Israel, and are constantly churning out engaging content regardless of war or peacetime.
But, so have their enemies. Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group, have also opened up a Twitter account and Facebook page to engage with both the world and their vaunted foe. Hamas has often used social media to engage in propaganda purposes and have called out their Israeli enemies. However, not even they are immune from a social media mistake!
The fact that social media is becoming a critical tool in the military arsenal is not a surprise. Storytellers, be they creative marketers or army commanders, will use whatever tools are at their disposal. However, I do not feel right calling our now deceased-ISIS fighter a ‘moron’. He wasn’t a moron. He was simply doing what came naturally to him. Tighter regulations must be made on soldiers so that they can understand the danger of social media.
The days of ‘loose lips sink ships’ is over. Now, we are in the age of ‘selfies send smart bombs’.