Today, the White House kicks off a three day journey, deep into the bowels of social media, to root out and discuss the origins and spread of extremism in places like Facebook and Twitter. The Social Media Summit will feature officials and experts from 60 countries, and will focus on how social media creates the perfect environment to foster rhetoric that leads to violence and how economically marginalized people are targeted through social media to join up with extremist groups.
Unfortunately, while there is plenty of evidence that terrorists, generally, and ISIS, specifically recruit and network on social media (a friend of mine even had an ISIS fighter comment on a very lovely photo of her dog just recently), the White House will turn the summits attention to more pressing issues in the social media sphere, like how to use celebrities to reach out to communities suffering from terribly high unemployment, and how to make “hastag activism” more effective.
“We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content,” Richard A. Stengel, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said by telephone on Monday. Until now, he said, the efforts to counter ISIS could have been better coordinated.
Many of the plan’s details are still being worked out, but administration officials are expected to describe at least its broad outlines during three days of meetings, sponsored by the White House and beginning Tuesday, intended to showcase efforts underway in the United States and abroad to combat what the authorities call violent extremism.
Senior administration officials on Monday described the conference, coming in the wake of extremist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, as a way to help communities counter the efforts of groups like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. President Obama will speak twice during the meetings, which are expected to draw local leaders from around the United States and foreign ministers from more than 60 nations.
According to officials, the tactics will focus on how to work a sustainable PR campaign in disenfranchised communities so that violence doesn’t occur, without, perhaps, realizing that the violence is a sustainable PR campaign in and of itself. As for what is at the root of the violence, well, that’s something the White House just hasn’t figured out yet. But they’re working on it.
I mean, if all we’re doing is arguing on a hashtag about whether camels make the best cave companions, and comparing the dromedaries to, say, Kate Upton, sure, we could probably win the debate, especially if we assume that our opponent is more like one of the warring factions of #GamerGate, and unlikely to leave his or her dorm room-slash-XBox-slash-Womens Studies Masters Thesis study program to actually do anything about it. Boko Haram’s military arm, on the other hand, failed to notice a war was being waged against them on social media because they were too busy with all the paperwork associated with the Nigerian slave trade.
Some day, we’ll all look back on this and laugh, I’m sure.