AIF Blog

ISIL Is Losing on the Digital Battlefield

Dec 15, 2016
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.
Headlines about fake news and investigations over Russian hacking are the focus in America today. One internet news item taking a backseat is ISIL’s losses, not just on the physical battlefield, but the digital one too. In early December, the terror group lost control of Sirte, Libya, and the Iraqi military continues to fight for Mosul. On the internet, ISIL is losing the information war, says Richard Stengel, undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Stengel spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.
He’s disappointed in how the American press covers the information war ISIL has waged. “There’s just so much misinformation,” he says. The messaging ISIL conveys via the internet is primarily done in Arabic (85 percent). After Arabic, Stengel says Russian is the group’s language of choice. “They’re in the marketing business. They’re looking for people who might be receptive to their message.” Only 6 or 7 percent of their content is in French and English, according to Stengel. “So this sense that they’re targeting us with their message, which is aided and abetted by the American media, is so patently false.”
The digital war is being lost by ISIL because tech companies are taking down their violent messaging and mainstream Muslims are publicly rejecting the group. “Just over the last two or three quarters, the amount of content they are producing is down by 45 percent. The number of followers ISIL has online is down by 70 or 80 percent. And we estimate there’s now six times as much content on social media that’s anti-ISIL than pro-ISIL,” said Stengel earlier this year. Stengel has been working to help get the voices of mainstream Muslims repulsed by ISIL, into the public sphere, in part, through federal Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (now the Global Engagement Center), a group created under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
By Marci Krivonen, Associate Editor/Producer, Public Programs
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