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Research Questions

  1. What are the options for operationalizing recent RAND findings about ISIS opponents and supporters on Twitter?
  2. How can a counter-ISIS message leverage voices of influential Twitter users in the Arab world to promote a bottom-up and authentic counter-ISIS message?
  3. How can U.S. and partner governments and nongovernmental organizations use RAND’s previous analysis to more effectively implement top-down messaging to directly counter ISIS support on Twitter?

This Perspective presents options for operationalizing recent RAND Corporation findings about ISIS opponents and supporters on Twitter. This paper formulates a countermessaging approach for two main communication pathways. First, we articulate an approach for working with influential Twitter users in the Arab world to promote bottom-up and authentic counter-ISIS messaging. Second, we highlight ways that U.S. and partner governments and nongovernmental organizations can use our analysis to more effectively implement top-down messaging to directly counter ISIS support on Twitter. Our original study found that there are six times the number of ISIS opponents than there are supporters on Twitter. We argue that it is critical to empower these influencers by drawing on lessons from the commercial marketing industry. We consequently highlight approaches to identify influencers on social media and empower them with both training and influential content.

Key Findings

While Social Media Is Still Relatively New, Many of the Best Practices for Using It Are Based on Well-Understood Marketing Approaches

  • The first, and perhaps most important, lesson is that a social media campaign must be part of a broader marketing strategy, whether to sell more shoes of a particular brand or to convince at-risk populations not to engage in violent extremist behavior.
  • The recommended approaches for using Twitter must ultimately be tied into an overarching campaign that seeks to undermine extremism.

A Bottom-Down Messaging Strategy Using Influencers in the Arab World Can Be Effective

  • Because the U.S. government is unlikely a credible messenger among the populations that are most at risk of radicalization and recruitment, working with influential Twitter users can help create authentic counter-ISIS messaging.

Tailoring Top-Down Messaging by Targeting Specific Themes to Different Communities also Helps Facilitate the Social Conversation

  • The messages provide distinct content that resonates with the issues that various communities face.
  • Using data-driven market segmentation and analysis, organizations can listen to and learn from the existing ISIS opposition to create more effective countermessages.

Recommendations

  • The approaches for using Twitter must ultimately be tied to an overarching campaign that seeks to undermine extremism.
  • Organizations can use data-driven market segmentation and analysis to listen to and learn from the existing ISIS opposition to create more effective countermessages.
  • Countermessaging strategies and specific efforts should be analyzed to measure impact and modify approaches as needed.

This RAND-initiated research was conducted within RAND's Center for Middle East Public Policy.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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