The committee overseeing the federal government’s “Twitter war” against terrorist propaganda admitted on Thursday that despite nearly $1.3 billion dollars in annual programming, it cannot measure the success of those efforts.
The news was revealed in a public meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which advises the work of news agencies such as Voice Of America, as well as public-engagement programs by the Department of State. In an extensive list of “key findings,” one of the Commission’s top observations was that “Research and Evaluation is greatly underfunded at the BBG [Broadcasting Board of Governors] and the State Department.”
In other words, the government funds 74 different language-specific news services, including Voice of America’s Bambara Service and Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service, but doesn’t have the money to measure if they’re making a difference. (RELATED: Middle Eastern Social Media Erupts Over Senate ‘Torture’ Report)
The meeting featured remarks by one a leader of the government’s “Twitter war” with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Daniel Kimmage, Principal Deputy Coordinator for the Department of State’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), acknowledged that besides raw numbers, his office also relies primarily on “anecdotal examples” of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups coordinating against American messaging.
He also commented that terrorist groups’ messaging success can often be attributed to centralized leadership and decentralized distribution networks. The CSCC’s work, on the other hand, is done through a series of official social media accounts, all of which are prominently branded with the State Department logo.
Kimmage showed the gathered audience an Arabic-language YouTube video made by the CSCC, highlighting the hypocrisy of ISIS. The video was meant to counter ISIS’ campaign of highly polished, professional-looking online videos, which include catchy music videos and cheerful documentaries about life in the Islamic State. (RELATED: ISIS Is Hiring)
The video has been viewed nearly 40,000 times to date, but Kimmage was unable to provide substantive details about the location or views of the internet users who have watched the video. And contrary to the slick, high-definition videos produced by ISIS’ Al-Hayat Media Center, the State Department video had a distinctively homespun feel.
Speakers at the meeting, including Kimmage, seemed aware that US policy was a much larger influencer of global public opinion than any public messaging campaign.
The CSCC’s most prominent project is perhaps the “Think Again Turn Away” Twitter account, which Mother Jones has described as “your tax dollars… funding the State Department’s trolling of jihadists on Twitter.” Beyond mere trolling, though, the government seems unable to verify whether its efforts are effective in thwarting the internet’s many terrorist recruitment networks.
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