(This post is from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Lawmakers despairing over the Islamic State’s success in recruiting would-be terrorists on social media proposed on Thursday that the U.S. government create more viral memes, possibly with Hollywood’s help.
“There’s an obvious piece of legislation that we need to start working on,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said during a Homeland Security Committee hearing on “Jihad 2.0“.
“Let’s face it: We invented the Internet. We invented the social network sites. We’ve got Hollywood. We’ve got the capabilities … to blow these guys out of the water from the standpoint of communications.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., backed his colleague’s appeal. “Look at their fancy memes compared to what we’re not doing,” Booker said, displaying examples of jihadist online postings.
Booker is a prolific user of Twitter and a former viral sensation in his own right, as mayor of Newark. He said he knows “something about memes,” and added that “there are easy tactics how to get more voice, virality to messaging that we’re not using as a government.”
Instead, he lamented, the U.S. is spending “millions and millions of dollars on old school forms of media,” like Voice of America.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said that the private sector could play a greater role working with the government in any counter-recruitment initiative.
Here’s a clip from the hearing:
Also at the hearing, Peter Bergen, a senior New America Foundation national security expert, testified in favor of more lenient treatment for would-be fighters who reverse course before fully committing themselves.
He noted that Muslim families who see a son or daughter radicalizing online are deterred from reporting the matter to the FBI out of fear that he or she will be thrown in jail for more than a decade.
“If somebody is not actually indicted for a potential act of terrorism, but merely for trying to go to Syria, we should be thinking about off-ramps that aren’t 15 years in prisons,” Bergen said.
Sam Sacks is a writer and reporter living in Washington, D.C. He is the co-founder of the watchdog news site The District Sentinel.
Photo: Screengrab of Cory Booker at Senate hearing