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Medium, Message, and Terrorism

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 30 2011

The new White House counterterrorism strategy ignores the Internet, Wired's Spencer Ackerman writes at Danger Room:

It would be one thing if the White House made an argument that al-Qaida’s online activity is unlikely to result in actual terrorism. But Brennan didn’t even do that. In his Wednesday speech, he warned of the danger from English-speaking extremists like Awlaki or Adam Gadahn who “preach violence in slick videos over the internet.” (Indeed, someone appears to be interrupting that flow right now.) Yet the strategy doesn’t devote any effort to confronting those online messages.

There are smart and stupid ways to confront online jihadism. (The stupid ones include increased government monitoring of people’s internet usage, since non-jihadis like, um, journalists try to check out terrorist messages online.) But to ignore it might be the biggest unforced error of all.

But the 26-page document does reference the Internet as a battlefield in the war for ideas, if briefly.

"We will focus on disrupting al-Qa'ida's ability to project its message across a range of media, challenge the legitimacy and accuracy of the assertions and behavior it advances, and promote a greater understanding of U .S . policies and actions and an alternative to al-Qa‘ida’s vision," reads the strategy, released Wednesday by counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

The same page, our research assistant Becky Kazansky points out, specifically mentions social media. Elsewhere, the strategy references precisely the other point Ackerman raises — confronting facilitation and planning online:

Mass media and the Internet in particular have emerged as enablers for terrorist planning, facilitation, and communication, and we will continue to counter terrorists’ ability to exploit them.