Social media the new battleground against local jihadists
DIPLOMATS have quietly opened a new front in efforts to stem the flow of Britons travelling to fight in Syria by spending nearly $375,000 on "social media activity" to deter would-be jihads from leaving the UK, The Independent has revealed.
Fighters for al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria's civil war have proved adept at using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to recruit foreign fighters, with messages and images exhorting young Muslims to join a holy war against Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime.
Now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) aims to counter the pro-jihadi propaganda glorifying the conflict by setting up its own online project to convince British Muslims not to go to Syria.
Documents seen by The IoS show that the FCO was granted $318,250 in urgent funding for "social media activity to deter UK residents from travelling to fight in Syria".
The spending, part of a project entitled "FCO deterring Syria foreign fighters activity", had to be approved by a special Treasury unit, the Efficiency and Reform Group, because it fell outside public sector spending limits.
But although the budget and aim of the internet campaign can be revealed, the precise methods being used to win the battle for the hearts and minds of young Muslims are unknown.
In the United States, the State Department has started using an official Twitter account with a department crest to target Islamic extremists or potential terrorists online, messaging recipients with the hash tag #thinkagainturnaway.
With propaganda playing a central role in drawing Britons and other young Muslims in Western countries to Syria, security agencies and police have long monitored jihadi Twitter feeds and other social networks for intelligence on potential threats. But their use as a government publicity tool is new and its effectiveness unknown.
- The Independent