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SM1In my most recent blog, I told you the true story about Mark the Plumber, from Texas, not to be confused with Joe the Plumber—and how ISIS is using social media and humorous photos of Mark’s truck surrounded by ISIS soldiers for great laughter—humiliating not only Mark, but, at least implicitly, the entire U.S. as well.

At least Mark is doing something about it. He has actually sued the automobile dealership to whom he sold his truck, and who promised to, but did not, remove his company logo from the side of his truck before reselling it. What about our “leaders” in Washington, in particular those who would be our next U.S. President? What are they doing about ISIS’ effective use of social media to further its causes, including organizing the recent mass killings in Paris (and perhaps in San Bernardino too, although that remains to be established, one way or the other) and apparently mesmerizing and recruiting sympathizers and low profile radical Jihadists on an ongoing worldwide basis.

Our politicians recognize that we are fighting a physical war with ISIS. They constantly debate, but, surprise, surprise, reach no consensus about “boots on the ground,” “no fly zones” over Syria and other similar physical issues. However, do you hear any of them speaking out that we are, or should, also be engaged in a digital war with ISIS and that we must come up with a strategy for fighting ISIS in cyberspace as well as here on good old terra firma.

In my last blog, I said I would have some ideas to share in this blog. Okay, here we go.

Identifying the Digital Opponent and its Reach

It seems to me that ISIS runs its digital campaigns on two levels, one being posted directly by its centrist leaders and the other being posted by various supportive intermediaries, some human and some not (known as “bots”).

What The U.S. Can Do To Win The Digital War

By definition, the centrist leaders are known, if not by individual names, then certainly by organization. The same may be true of many of the intermediaries. It should be easy enough to see that the identifiable social media platforms of ISIS and its supporters are terminated. One would think that social media sponsors (Twitter, FaceBook, X-Box, etc.) shun the values of ISIS just as much as you and I and would voluntarily cooperate in promptly taking such platforms down. If not, however, our political leaders certainly have any number of laws at their disposal to achieve this result. Treason, sedition, inciting violence are just a few that come to mind.

What about the posts of those we are unable to identify, particularly posts that are communicated in a confidential manner, as the authorities suspect was the case of the Paris acts?

Two things come to mind. One is to use “keyword tags” and eliminate all posts that use such incendiary tag words. Will this encroach upon posts that innocently use such tags? Sure. So what? It’s not like such actions would encroach on any fundamental rights. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a dark theater to cause mischief. Why would this be any more invasive? Persons legitimately using such tags will be able to find alternative language.

Ah, but so will ISIS supporters. During World War II, government intelligence personnel cracked all kinds of enemy codes. Could this be any more difficult? Our authorities won’t catch everything, but they will make a huge dent.

A second approach would be to outlaw confidential communications. Another encroachment on free speech? Sure. But so is not letting the jerk yell “Fire!” These rights are not absolute. Legitimate users of social media will need to give up confidential digital communications. If that’s important, they can use snail mail, telephone, faxes, etc. That worked for centuries. It can work again, long enough to stomp out ISIS. Inconvenient yes, but manageable. A reasonable sacrifice to prevent, or at least reduce the number of, the next San Bernardino.

Still a third approach would be to take on and beat ISIS at its own PR game. ISIS is using a worldwide social media PR campaign to recruit supporters all over the globe, particularly in the United States. With all of our writing and PR know how, one would think we might be able to outdo ISIS in the social media PR arena.

The fact is that the sacrifices inherent in the first two of the three above suggestions will inconvenience but not seriously prejudice legitimate users of social media. We can deal with it. With some discipline and commitment, all three of these steps will seriously impair ISIS’ advances. Why don’t we hear any of our Presidential candidates coming up with ideas like this? Why is ISIS outsmarting them? Would’t you make sure not to let ISIS and its supporters join your club?

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  • Jane S Taber

    Wish I could add one interesting idea… But unfortunately I am techy exceptional.

  • Jose Sigal

    I think Ronaldo that politicians don’t talk about this because there would be some loss of privacy or rights involved and in this environment of political correctness that would be a very hot potato. If there are more attacks that might change, but it will originate from the people and probably not the government.

    I would be willing to sacrifice something like Israel does in exchange for safety, but I know some of our friends would not.

    When it comes to the PR campaign , they cannot even run a good one to be elected President, so what could we expect here?

    • Pepe, thanks for sharing your insights. You are correct that what I advocate in my blog will result in some “politically incorrect” loss of privacy. You are also right that Israelis don’t seem to mind this invasion of their privacy.

      As do you, I wonder how many more random deaths at the hands of (politically incorrect?) terrorists, and what percentage decline in our economy (fall off in sales and employment due to increasing numbers of Americans too afraid to attend football games, movies, concerts, or even to go out to a local restaurant for a meal), it will take for our political “leaders” to decide that safety may actually be more “politically correct” than absolute privacy?

      So, let’s see, a little loss of privacy or a little loss of life? I know where you and I come down on this. Why don’t we ask the San Bernardino victims (those who are still alive) and their families where they come down on this?
      We will get there. It’s just a question of how many more casualties we have to suffer first. Like the TV commercial for servicing your car, you can pay me (less) now or you can pay me (a lot more) later. You and I would find it refreshing to act now, before there are still more casualties that might have been avoided by a more intelligent, proactive homeland security system on all fronts, including digital.

      As for who would run the PR campaign, I again agree with you, we would have to hire smarter PR advisors than those running the current Presidential campaigns, although ours would certainly have more to work with than those promoting our Presidential candidates. 🙂

  • Kudos to Elk Grove, California Assemblyman Jim Cooper for introducing reasonable compromise legislation that would compel tech companies to provide court ordered back door access to encrypted digital communications, and for his willingness to take on those tech companies and their privacy advocate allies, who will hopefully come to their senses and priorities before they perhaps lose a loved one to an act of terrorism. Why in the world would anyone object to access only after issuance of a court subpoena? How many of us will ever give a court of competent jurisdiction cause to issue a subpoena to access our phones? I have nothing to hide or worry about. Do you? A very small price to intercept events like Paris and San Bernardino. As for hackers, can they really keep up with the likes of Silicon Valley not to keep out those who don’t first obtain a court issued subpoena if they get with the program instead of resisting it?