Taliban winning the new media War 2.0?

War 2.0 Conference speaker argues terror groups have successfully harnessed Web 2.0, video and mobile technologies.

The skilful use of old and new media technologies by terrorist organisations threaten to undermine the efforts of Coalition armed forces in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to an Australian National University (ANU) researcher.

Speaking to Computerworld ahead of the War 2.0: Political Violence and New Media conference being held at the ANU, Prakash Mirchandai, a visiting fellow at the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda had successfully harnessed technologies such as video and mobile phones to bypass Coalition messages conveyed by mainstream media.

“If you look at where the Taliban is getting its message across to the non-committed Afghanis it is through video,” he said. “They’re shooting Jihadist videos which are very sophistically edited and put on DVDs and the Internet.”

Along with pirate FM and mobile shortwave radio stations used to preach sermons and anti-Coalition messages, the Taliban and other terrorist groups were successfully using mobile phone technology to shoot, share and send images, footage and messages, Mirchandai said.

“The future is in mobile phones which are a radio, a camera, a phone, GPS, and listening device all in one,” he said. “The challenge is now that everyone is potentially a source of pictures and information, but you don’t know where it has come from and how accurate it is. The more of these sources point a finger at the Coalition and provide a video to prove it, the more the Coalition has its back to the wall.”

Despite considerations by the Obama administration to give $US150 million a year to countering militant propaganda across Afghanistan and Pakistan — pushing its own messages out through the internet and mobile phones — more than a technological solution was needed, Mirchandai said.

“The challenge [for the US] is language expertise — and that’s desperately short — and secondly, credible voices; what is the credible message and who is the credible voice delivering it?” he said. “You can use all the technology in the world, but if the basic message is unsound, then you’re not going to convince anyone.”

The Coalition was responding to the issue through new media initiatives such as ‘blog-talk’ radio — a Pentagon initiative to enable anyone with a phone and PC to run a talkback radio station, Mirchandai said. It was also using a one-stop-shop ‘media service’ — Digital Imagery and Video Distribution System (DIVDS) — to distribute its own version of events.

Similar to Gen-Y in Coalition countries, young Taliban members had largely abandoned television and newspapers in favour of communicating with each other directly over the Internet, Mirchandai said.

“If you look at the young Taliban members, they’re swimming in the same Web 2.0 world as people in other countries the same age,” he said. “The trouble [with the Coalition new-media technologies] is that they are using old messages. There’s no point in putting on a 50 year old general or admiral to talk to young folk using new media as the language is all wrong.”

Email Computerworld or follow @computerworldau on Twitter.

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