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Bold New Gov't Anti-Terror Initiative: Online Trolling


"annoy, frustrate and humiliate denizens of online extremist forums."

A member of the U.S. State Department has begun a new anti-terror initiative that is unlike others taken on by the U.S. government. It's name: "Viral Peace."

What's the plan? Wired explains that instead of engaging in traditional warfare, this initiative is going to try to "annoy, frustrate and humiliate denizens of online extremist forums."

Wired reports the program has already begun and was launched by Shahed Amanullah, a senior technology advisor with the State Department. In an interview with Wired, Amanullah said the goal is to use “logic, humor, satire, [and] religious arguments, not just to confront [extremists], but to undermine and demoralize them.”

(Related: Are American Web-Hosting Companies Protecting the Most Active Al-Qaeda Websites? Read the Report)

Jarret Brachman, who studies online jihadism, thinks the tactic could work as those on the forums are often used by "massive narcissists [who] need constant ego boosts." If you can get rid of the "momentum, the anger and the virulence" on such forums by balancing it with counterterror "trolling," some of the most verbose participants could dwindle off.

Viral Peace is still in its fledgling stages though -- it doesn't even have an official strategic plan yet. There's also the fact that many of these contrary posts on forums could be taken down by administrators, as Will McCants, formerly with the State Department and now with the CNA think tank, told Wired.

McCants said the strategy could work if it targeted forums where terrorists were trying to recruit members.

So where is Viral Peace now? According to Wired, the program with a small budget is in the process of training "good trolls." Meetings have been held in several countries to brainstorm. Amanullah believes that for the "trolls" to be credible, they will need to come from those who know the lingo best. As Wired explains it, the program hopes to "let Muslims in various foreign countries figure out which message boards to troll and how to properly troll them. Americans won’t know, say, the Tagalog-language Internet better than Filipinos; and as outsiders, they won’t have the credibility necessary to actually make an impact."

Amanullah said this program is meant to supplement existing counterterror efforts -- not replace them.

"I want to prove you can do small, inexpensive, high-impact projects that don’t just talk about the problem but solve the problem,” he said to Wired. "And solve it the right way: not with the government’s heavy hand but by empowering local people to do what they already know to do but don’t know how."

Read Wired's full article for more details on Viral Peace here.

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