State steps up counter-terrorism digital initiatives

The State Department announced a director to lead the new Global Engagement Center, which will help allies using social media campaigns in countering terrorist group messaging.

Shutterstock image (by ra2studio): social connection interface.

The State Department on Jan 8. announced a new director for the Global Engagement Center, which focuses on helping allies including non-governmental individuals on countering the messaging of terrorists groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Michael D. Lumpkin, who currently serves as assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, will lead the center with staff consisting of experts within the private sector and government agencies.

"At this critical stage in the fight against Daesh -- and in the global effort to counter violent extremism -- the GEC will lead the effort to synchronize messaging to foreign audiences that will counter the destructive messages of violent extremist groups," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

To counter terrorist groups' online messaging, the center will assist in crafting social media campaigns, providing "factual information that counters disinformation" and helping "third parties to effectively utilize social media to research and evaluation," the department said in a statement.

"While I applaud the State Department's focus on this critical issue, it's not clear from this announcement what will be different from so many different government approaches that have been tried in the past," Kristin Lord, president and CEO of IREX, an international development non-profit organization, told FCW.

"What is promising," she said, "is that this center could invest, through seed funding and other support, to amplify and support voices that are credible -- but this will require a very light touch by the us government and extensive work with partners."

The State Department's announcement came around the same time when the White House said it will establish the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, which will sync the efforts of the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice domestically. That same day, senior officials from the White House met with members of the technology industry in Silicon Valley to follow up on conversations about expanding the work between the government and private sectors on combating terrorism and counter violent extremism online.

"The horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino this winter underscored the need for the United States and our partners in the international community and the private sector to deny violent extremists like ISIL fertile recruitment ground," Ned Price, the White House National Security Council spokesman, said.

Lord, meanwhile, said that technology is important but not necessarily the driving force.

"Technology is an important amplifier and platform for extremist messages," she said, "but the bigger problem is why these extremist ideologies are persuasive, why people continue to hold the grievances they do, and why people are willing to use violence in support of extremist ideologies."