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State Dept. Bolsters Social Media Campaign Against ISIS, Al-Qaida, Others

Sarah Scully/Nextgov.com file photo

The State Department is expanding a program to counter al-Qaida and other extremist groups using Twitter, YouTube and other digital media, the agency announced this week.

The English-language Think Again Turn Away campaign is run by the Center for Strategic Counter Terrorism Communications’ digital outreach team.

The English-language effort uses Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube accounts to promote U.S. and international perspectives on topics such as the motives of the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has taken control of large portions of Iraq and has a strong social media presence of its own.

The Think Again Turn Away Twitter account engages with individual Twitter users, linking to its own picture and video archives or to outside articles from respected news outlets. Frequent themes include ISIS’ targeting of Muslims and civilians in general.

The department has awarded a $575,046 contract to JTG, Inc. of Vienna, Virginia, to continue and expand the English-language initiative that launched late last year without additional money or personnel. The digital media team also works in Arabic, Urdu, Somali and Punjabi.

Under the new 6-month contract, JTG employees will research and analyze extremist websites and “conduct focus group[s] or other relevant pretesting of product concepts and pilot products in order to ensure resonance with the target audience” -- namely, English speakers, including Westerners, who are digitally engaged with extremists and potential targets of recruitment efforts. CSCC says the program is not intended to target Americans.

“CSCC will now be working aggressively to identify various ways to measure effectiveness across all languages, formats and platforms, including but not limited to, focus groups,” the center’s leader Ambassador Alberto Fernandez said in an emailed statement to Nextgov.

The solicitation said the emphasis is on “radicalization and recruitment efforts of al-Qaida and related groups such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Shabaab, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and others.”

The program is looking to branch out “to increase the reach of the campaign,” tapping new platforms the contractor has been tasked with identifying. JTG also must find and secure licenses for images, which are a key element of ISIS' online propaganda campaign. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The expansion includes several contract positions; analytics, research and other tools; software and hardware; travel; and various other items. Fernandez said it’s not unusual to contract out this type of work, as the center’s foreign language digital media programs have also been doing.

“In digital counterterrorism communications, we often need to be able to move from language to language and environment to environment to keep pace with events and our adversaries,” Fernandez said. “In practical terms, this means that we frequently need to look for new people with new skills. The best mechanism for doing this is to contract out the work.”

Here's a sample #ThinkAgainTurnAway Twitter exchange:

This story has been updated to clarify that CSCC's English-language digital media outreach is not directed at Americans.

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