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U.S. 'Outdone' by Terrorists on Social Media Battlefield, Experts Say

“Government is ill-placed to lead in the battle of ideas.”

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco arrives to introduce US President Barack Obama for a speech on countering violent extremism in Washington, DC, February 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON
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JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The United States is losing the digital propaganda war to the Islamic State and other extremist groups, said Sasha Havlicek, CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. What's worse, she said, is that the U.S. hasn't put up much of a fight.

“We are outdone in content, quantity and quality,” Havlicek said Wednesday in a presentation at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. “Government is ill-placed to lead in the battle of ideas.”

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco arrives to introduce US President Barack Obama for a speech on countering violent extremism in Washington, DC, February 18, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON/Getty Images)

She said before the Islamic State used social media as a recruiting tool, Osama bin Laden, the former leader of Al Qaeda, knew the importance “soft power” in the digital age.

Lisa Monaco, assistant to President Barack Obama on homeland security, told the conference that she met with executives from Silicon Valley on how to establish a counter narrative to terrorist who are "exploiting our young people using Twitter and Facebook."

"One anecdote is to lift the voices of freedom and tolerance over the noise of Al Qaeda and ISIL," Monaco told the conference.

Bridging the gap will require the private sector, Havlicek said.  She talked about two projects her organization has been involved in, “Abdullah X” and “Extreme Dialogue,” both of which have targeted possible targets of radicalization.

Havlicek said Abdullah X, messaging against violence meant for younger people “initially reached 50 random people online.”

With the right upgrades and help from the technology sector, they were able to send targeted Abdullah X messages to Twitter accounts that were being targeted by the Islamic State.

The best indicator of the success of Abdullah X is that it incited a response from the Islamic State, she said.

“We don’t need to reach millions of youth. We need to reach perhaps thousands of youth who are in danger of being radicalized,” Havlicek said.

“Extreme Dialogue" sends out stories via Twitter and Facebook, of families who lost children to extremists that can be taken into community centers.

“What working with the private sector is this context means is that rather than getting these messages in one school at a time, we can get them in hundreds of thousands of schools,” she said.

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