Cover: Promoting Online Voices for Countering Violent Extremism

Promoting Online Voices for Countering Violent Extremism

Published Feb 4, 2013

by Todd C. Helmus, Erin York, Peter Chalk


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Research Questions

  1. In what ways are American Muslims countering violent extremism now?
  2. What are the challenges those parties confront?
  3. What can the public and private sector do to amplify those voices?

American Muslims have played an important role in helping to counter violent extremism (CVE) and support for al-Qa'ida, and are increasingly using the Internet and social media to these ends. Discussions with a number of Muslim leaders active in social media suggest that it is possible to expand such efforts even further, and doing so is a major objective of the August 2011 White House strategy to counter violent extremism. RAND researchers reviewed literature and interviewed American Muslims experienced in social media to understand and explain key challenges facing Muslim activists against extremism, and to identify ways in which the public and private sector can help empower CVE voices online. Their recommendations include reducing the national security focus of CVE where possible: addressing sources of mistrust within the Muslim community, focusing engagement and education on those influential in social media, and enhancing both government and private-sector funding and engagement.

Key Findings

Outside Influences Must Be Facilitators, Not Orchestrators

  • The U.S. government and private funders will have more success reaching Muslim audiences if they allow Muslim activists to control the message.
  • This approach entails some risk as activists will criticize policies of the U.S. government or advocate views that seemingly diverge from the mainstream.
  • The challenge comes in appreciating that such authenticity and criticism only serve to empower what is hoped to be a core message of peace and tolerance.
  • Ultimately, the U.S. government and private sponsors must allow credible Muslim voices to reach their own conclusions and find their own message.


  • Reduce the national security focus of countering violent extremism where possible.
  • Address sources of mistrust within the Muslim community.
  • Focus engagement and education on those with strong social media influence.
  • Build leadership and social media capacity in the Muslim community.
  • Enhance private-sector funding and engagement.
  • Find avenues to enhance government funding.

This research was conducted within the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center, a joint center of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment and the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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