Obama Picks a Twitter Czar to Help Defeat ISIS
Policy + Politics

Obama Picks a Twitter Czar to Help Defeat ISIS

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Stung by criticism from lawmakers, defense experts and some foreign leaders that his strategy for defeating ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria is badly flawed, President Obama acknowledged in a speech Thursday that it will take a lot more than just air strikes or even boots on the ground to foil the Islamic jihadists.

While ISIS is known for its cutthroat violence and mass killings, the group’s leaders have proven to be brilliant propagandists and masters of 21st Century social media.

The jihadist organization been remarkably effective in recruiting young Muslim men from throughout the Middle East, and from Western countries including France and the United States, through clever or shocking posts and Internet memes on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, according to some reports. CNN reported this week that ISIS is also using online images of jars of Nutella, kittens and emojis to try to lure Western women into its fight.

Related: Tom Ridge Says U.S. Terror Risks Higher Now Than After 9/11

If the U.S. and allied countries in Europe and the Middle East are ever going to thwart this enemy, Obama suggested during a summit on countering violent extremism at the State Department, it will have to be done in part by outfoxing them on the Internet.

“We must acknowledge that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth,” Obama told the conference. “And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations.”

“That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence,” Obama added. “And that hurts all of us, including Islam, and especially Muslims, who are the ones most likely to be killed.”

Related: How ISIS Could Drag the U.S. Into a Ground Fight

What to do? For one thing, the president said, the U.S. is joining with the United Arab Emirates to create a new digital communications hub “to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.”

Who better to lead such an effort than a newly minted U.S. government anti-terrorism Twitter Czar. Obama announced that Rashad Hussain, the president’s current envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, will become the new coordinator of counterterrorism communications.

Hussain will lead a staff drawn from a number of U.S. departments and agencies to expand international partnerships to counter violent extremism and to develop counter-terrorism communications strategies around the globe, according to the State Department.

“So the United States will do more to help counter hateful ideologies, and today I urge your nations to join us in this urgent work,” Obama told a roomful of officials and foreign diplomats.

From the looks of his resume, Hussain has spent much of the past four years promoting U.S. policy and interests on diplomatic missions to Muslim-majority countries and groups. Just how good his social media skills are in combating a lethal enemy remains to be seen.

Related: Kurdish Leader Doubts Obama Has an ISIS Plan

Hussain was previously Deputy Associate Counsel to Obama and focused on national security, new media, and science and technology issues. He has also served as Director for Global Engagement at the National Security Council and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, D.C., where he prosecuted criminal cases.

His duties are separate and different from those of Andrew Lack, a veteran television and entertainment executive who is leaving Bloomberg Media Group to become chief executive officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. That federal agency is responsible for overseeing U.S.-backed international networks including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

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