US battles al-Qaeda supporters online
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
President Barack Obama is seen in this photo. The US has announced that it is deliberately sparring with al-Qaeda supporters and militants online.The United States is deliberately sparring with al-Qaeda supporters and militants online aiming to shoot down extremist messages and win over hearts and minds, a U.S. official said on March 27.
Seeking out the virtual spaces where “al-Qaeda and its supporters lurk” is part of America’s strategy to combat violent extremism, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine told students at the University of Maryland.
“We robustly engage with them in chat forums in Arabic, Somali, Punjabi and Urdu,” she explained. “By targeting the hardliners, we are really trying to reach the middle grounders, the fence sitters, the sympathizers and passive supporters.”
Last year, staff at the new Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications wrote some 7,000 posts on different online forums.
“When we counter unfounded rumors, propaganda and conspiracy theories with facts, truth and reasonable argument, we can better define what we stand for. And we have a greater chance of changing more minds,” Sonenshine said.
She admitted it was hard to assess whether such virtual online battles were helping to win the war against extremists, quipping that “terrorists are not exactly willing to participate in surveys.” But she said it was considered “a gain” when al-Qaeda complained about the center’s activities in their online forums.