Two titans of social media, Anonymous and ISIS, are at war with each other. ISIS, as we now know thanks to a methodologically robust study from the Brookings Institute, has become a major force on Twitter with more than 25,000 active Twitter accounts (from among as many as 90,000 total accounts created) supporting its propaganda efforts. Anonymous is, in the words of V, legion and has set its sights on dismantling ISIS's digital capacity. The underground hacker group has wreaked havoc in the past for the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and other groups it considers corrupt, and now ISIS is its target. But while Anonymous is focusing its energies on destroying ISIS, the rest of us should not sit idly by while titans clash. Instead, we must fill social media with compelling and pervasive counter messages of moderation, peace and dialog.
Anonymous emphasizes that its ranks include people of all stripes, religions, economic means, ages and geographic location. They are everywhere among us and thus they embody the world's opposition to the violent extremism perpetrated by ISIS. But while Anonymous mobilizes people from all walks of life to undermine ISIS through hacking, that is simply not enough. Much as air strikes in a war zone cannot resolve a military conflict without boots on the ground, hacking ISIS to disable its digital and social capacity cannot win unless there are millions of voices in the ether to counter ISIS's message of hate and violence.
Disrupting and disabling ISIS's online channels can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Minimizing the reach of its rhetoric will help undermine ISIS's recruiting efforts, but it may also reduce intelligence gathering opportunities. Striking the right balance between these two goals will be important as Anonymous, Twitter and intelligence agencies focus their resources on ISIS's digital and social media infrastructure.
Regardless of the balance struck between dismantling ISIS's social media channels and leveraging them for intelligence gathering, a parallel global effort to counter ISIS's message is required. In order to change the impact social media is having on this global crisis we must offer another vision that is steeped in dialog, a desire for peace and a sense of moderation. If our goal is peaceful coexistence as we resolve conflicts, as I believe it should be, then our voices must be louder, more prolific and more compelling than the voices of ISIS's.
Our efforts to counter ISIS's message must come from all quarters. It is not just the responsibility of moderate Muslims to police their own ranks. This is a global challenge that will impact all of us. And we must rise to the challenge together. That is why my voice on Twitter, Facebook and in face-to-face conversations calls for peaceful coexistence. That is why my efforts focus on finding collaborative solutions to the problems creating disaffection among the youth ISIS targets with its recruiting messages.
As I have called for in past columns here, each of us needs to use our social networks, both online and offline, to embrace each other, to shine a light of hope on our downtrodden communities and to build consensus for solutions to the societal challenges that ISIS is perverting into their clarion call. Our clarion call of peaceful coexistence and collaboration must reign supreme. Otherwise, Anonymous will simply be playing a never-ending game of Whack a Mole, where each Twitter account they dismantle yields another in its place.