Countering Hate

THE ENVOY AND THE BOT:

TANGIBILITY IN DAESH’S ONLINE AND OFFLINE RECRUITMENT

iN2 PRACTITIONERS’ SERIES

This paper is the first in a series within which iN2 practitioners look back at the exclusive experience and insight collected through observing unique initiatives in Syria, Iraq and beyond, as well as public and private online platforms. Interrogating on-the-ground situations with scholarly debate and decision-maker discussions, the series intends to identify opportunities, support priorities and inspire debates related to the ever-pressing question of “what next?”. To prevent the pervasive influence of extremist violence, these papers aim to further the collective learning process and bring the hard-learnt lessons of Syria and Iraq to the global scene.

This paper follows a presentation by Paul Tilley, Managing Director of iN2, at the 9th National Summit on Strategic Communications on May 8, 2018 at American University in Washington, D.C. Register for the 10th Anniversary Strategic Summit on April 25-26, 2019 at www.strategicsummit.com

ABSTRACT

Daesh’s messenger came with an offer: arms, money and a non-aggression pact. Their Telegram automated messaging service was even more flexible: you too can become a mujahideen from your home. With an envoy and a bot, Daesh gained vital territorial access into southern Syria and a global legion of skilled media officers.

Daesh did so by formulating concrete offers anchored in the reality of the group’s needs and actions; they articulated a message that felt tangible to their target audience. By adapting the message and the messenger, they co-opted former enemies and spurred passive followers into action.

This paper explores in detail how this was achieved and what it means for strategic communications and countering violent extremism. By examining successful communication resistance in Mosul, we argue counter-messaging can no longer afford to ignore best practices and should place tangibility at its core. As violent networks proliferate globally, the stakes are too high for these lessons to be ignored.

As first in a series, the paper sets the ground and aims at introducing a few of the wealth of case studies collected by iN2 practitioners over the years. The subsequent papers will proceed to explore some of those cases in detail and extract lessons learned as the international community moves forward.

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