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The key in Islamic State fight

WASHINGTON: The Internet has become a crucial battleground in the fight against jihadist propaganda and Western nations need to step up their game, according to participants in a Washington meeting on countering radical groups.

Experts say governments must engage in corporate-style marketing if they are to combat the Islamic State, which is using slick videos to lure foreign nationals to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

“If ISIS has a branding and marketing department, where is ours?” said Sasha Havlicek, the founding chief executive officer of the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

The think tank has carried out several experiments using Google Ideas, Twitter and Facebook to try to directly engage with potential recruits — and dissuade them from joining the brutal jihadist movement.

In one campaign, ISD released several videos of Abdullah X — a fictional character who tries to convince young Muslims that following the Islamic State is not the way forward.

“We were able to ‘hypercharge’ that content — inserting him in the very spaces the extremists were using (…) anchoring this content to extremist Twitter accounts, posting it on extremist pages, having it pop out whenever you search for jihad in Syria,” said Havlicek.

“And within a few months, this went from reaching 50 people to 100,000 people of our target group of individuals searching to go to Syria for jihad,” she said.

The best indicator of success was that ISIS responded by running five pages of “urgent refutation” of the arguments of Abdullah X, she added.

The ISD think tank also launched a pilot project using Facebook to “walk back people from the edge” of extremism by proposing a one on-one chat with people expressing interest in violent jihad.

“Right now, only extremist groups and intelligence services are really engaging with this constituency online,” Havlicek said.

The next step is to see “if see if that outreach can be automated,” she added.

For that to happen, private companies with well-developed online marketing strategies can offer that knowledge to associations and activists working against the IS message, Havlicek said- AFP

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