JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va – The information environment is rapidly evolving with emerging technologies enabling a greater scale of effects and the broader availability of tools and content to non-state adversaries. The U.S. Army's Mad Scientist Initiative is leading a series of virtual events on Weaponized Information and these rapid changes in competition and conflict. On June 17, 2020, the Mad Scientist Initiative and Georgetown University Center for Security Studies hosted an online discussion featuring two student and alumni panels and their research on ISIS's use of social media in Saudi Arabia and on de-platforming bad actors.
The first panel featured new Georgetown graduates Henry Mihm, Inès Oulamine, and Fiona Singer. In Saudi Arabia, ISIS uses Twitter by bandwagoning onto, and then taking over, trending hashtags to broadcast its own content, which is all about volume and pushing content as far and fast as possible rather than creating their own new content. Previously, the ISIS strategy focused less on the quantity of information and more on creating a “cult of personality around specific jihadist or group.”
Fiona Singer highlighted, "The Saudi twitter market is the fifth largest in the world and represents 40% of Middle Eastern Twitter users.” This provides an ample audience for ISIS targeting, which reaches thousands of people daily. By using click-bait style captions and sourcing content from seemingly dormant “hub accounts,” ISIS leverages Tweet automation and the Twitter trending algorithms to increase viewership of its content. While successful at creating volume and disseminating propaganda, the ISIS tactic is crude and easy to identify—“There isn't a distinct pattern, preference, or emphasis since the goal is pushing content on whatever is trending at the moment." Thus, expertise and investment will provide entities the opportunity to combat ISIS weaponized information effectively.
The second panel, comprised of Georgetown students Maddox Angerhofer, Kristina Cary, Bilva Chandra, and Ido Wulkan, discussed the merits of various forms of deplatforming bad actors. “Deplatforming is an extreme moderation tactic, and there are other tactics to limit an individual's influence, like shadow banning." The methods they highlighted, included community takedown, official page removal, and public account suspension, all demonstrated a positive impact on reducing hate speech and decreasing radical propagandizing, with minimal platform migration.
The panelists advocated for increased cooperation and oversight between platforms, transparency around social media standards, and enforcement of hate speech policies to ensure the effectiveness of de-platforming. They also stated that further research using internal company data could help determine the merits of “soft-banning” tactics, which take down or reduce the accessibility of content without user awareness.
The next event in the Mad Scientist Information Warfare Virtual Series will take place on July 1, 2020 and feature a collaborative war-game with the Center for Advanced Red Teaming from the University at Albany. The war-game, titled The Storm After the Flood: Exploiting a Natural Disaster in Southeast Asia, will be broadcast live and will feature audience participation.