In this day and age, not a day that goes by without some entertaining new usage of social media coming to the fore. The vast array of platforms by which people can communicate instantly is fertile ground for all kinds of odd experimentations, although none I’ve seen are quite as odd as crowdsourcing ideas for jihadist media.
Using a hashtag which means “suggestions for development of jihadist media” Al Qaeda began a series of tweets that rapidly derailed when a stateside terrorism expert let loose the trolls. Terrorism specialist J.M. Berger noticed the hastag and translated it to English for the benefit of those who might like a good laugh at the terrorists’ expense:
Hey everybody, Al Qaeda is using this hashtag to solicit ideas for media ops #???????_??????_??????_??????? — you should all send some.
— J.M. Berger (@intelwire) August 13, 2013
At this point, the jihadists developed a sudden and deep understanding of Internet dynamics as a flood of snark submerged their attempt at crowdsourcing. The Internet can take smartass to warp nine in nothing flat. Especially with something that immediately reeks of absurdity like trying to crowdsource ways to be better terrorists.
(Berger is no stranger to presence of jhadists online, having recently penned an article about the dangers of extremists co-opting social media platforms. In it he takes note of Twitter’s automated suggestions feature, a feature he states could make a useful recruiting tool for extremists.)
Then the fun began. Here is a sampling of the snarky responses, which drowned out the serious ones by a factor of 10 to one.
#???????_??????_??????_??????? You’re missing out on all the REAL virgins! Catholics have way more than 70 virgins in Heaven…
— Ann Sires (@anniesires) August 16, 2013
Continue to have contempt for marksmanship. #???????_??????_??????_???????
— Tim Mathews (@timmathews) August 16, 2013
Al Qaeda should consider pink burqas for breast cancer awareness. #???????_??????_??????_???????
— Blair Scott (@blairscott_AL) August 14, 2013
Al Qaeda the movie: Dude, where’s my car bomb? #???????_??????_??????_???????
— Charlie (@timmyconspiracy) August 13, 2013
Hi Al Qaeda, long time listener first time caller. I’d like more audience participation and phone ins #???????_??????_??????_???????
— Jonathan Russell (@JRussellEsq) August 16, 2013
These are just a few from the flood of mockery that washed the original tweeter’s account out of existence. Not only did the entire round of terrorist market research get buried, but the originating account has been shut down by Twitter at the source.
Did you ever think you’d see the day that you cheered for an Internet Troll? For once, even this lowest of Internet behaviors has its shining moment in the sun.
Caitlin Dewey at The Washington Post notes that this may be the beginning of a trend, although what form that will take after this trouncing remains to be seen. She writes:
The movement is only just gaining traction on social media, though, which explains these kinds of open brainstorming chats — and suggests we’ll see more of them in the future. That could be a good thing, Berger argued in a piece for Foreign Policy, because unlike traditional, old-school jihadist message boards, Twitter opens the party line up to discussion and dissent.
On the other hand, al-Qaeda’s growing enthusiasm for popular networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube could also expose more would-be extremists to their work — a threat not lost on the U.S. As I’ve written in this space before, the State Department has an entire team devoted to combating extremists in online forums, blog comment threads and social networks. Research suggests they haven’t gained much traction either.
Would it really be surprising if trolls were more effective at squelching this sort of thing than any official effort? Mockery and satire are powerful forces as well as being long-standing tools of those with ideological goals. I’d say we may be starting to see some self-regulating behavior illustrated here.
In the meantime, and surprising no one, Berger has received the now-standard death threats. I wonder if I will as well, after having written this?
What do you think of Team Troll’s victory over jihad and what it might signify for the future? Let us know in the comments!
George "Loki" Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.