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By Anne Zeiser
Founder, Azure Media
We think ISIS is unique, but young people getting caught up in extreme thinking isn't new. It's an age-old problem that's in play right now throughout this country. Gang members in major cities, Columbine-like shooters, fringe cults, and prisoners have all been radicalized or indoctrinated in the U.S. through the exact same formula.
The formula: disenfranchized young men (mostly), raised with little means and hope who are desperate for meaning, purpose, and a sense of community fall prey to evil ideologies and groups because they fulfill these deep-seated needs. The promise can range from money, drugs, glory, redemption, or fame, but the need is the same. So at its core, ISIS isn't a product of religion or even ideology, but a product of lack of opportunity and hope. Its demented dogma channels that disenfranchisement and its output is fear.
Extremists themselves reveal how to combat them. ISIS isn't a country, a political force, or even a single entity with a clear leader. With no centralized physical place, ISIS is everywhere -- literally and in our minds. Its tentacles grow wider and deeper by the minute. So, bombing ISIS targets does little good beyond making us feel a bit better. But ISIS does inhabit one common place. Members plan, proselytize, recruit, and promote online. Sometimes covertly; sometimes in plain sight. Digital is ISIS's main forum and its connective tissue. That's where we should meet them head on.
Also, perception is paramount to terrorists. ISIS is motivated by our fear and has little fear of their own, except for being marginalized, humiliated, or killed by a woman so they won't go to heaven. Loss of life is no deterrent to ISIS because they don't value it the way we do. In fact, becoming a martyr and going to "paradise" is an end-goal, bringing greater glory to the cause. But because they understand life's supreme value to us, they artfully peddle their currency of fear. A perception campaign that overcomes our fear and plays into theirs could cut them off at the pass.
Can we combat the elusive ISIS? Absolutely. Simply reverse-engineer the psychology of these radicalized extremists and wage war on the two most powerful fronts -- an invisible digital trail and a visible digital trail.
The Invisible Digital Trail
The first line of defense uses the strategy of big data collection and analysis to bring the hidden into full view. It may not sound sexy, but the "1" and "0" are far mightier than the sword. That's because the trail of data that each of us leaves is forever traceable. Where you go, what you buy, and with whom you hang out all leave a digital footprint. That also goes for almost every move of every member of ISIS.
War, now and forever, will be waged at a digital level. Not just with bullets and bombs, but with algorithms and analysis. Digital geeks and digital detectives are today's new warriors. They gather huge volumes of data, program it to reveal key insights, and connect the dots to help us find the pockets of ISIS members so we can root them out. Information gathering, data sharing, and data analysis by free nations at the highest level is the most effective means of nailing ISIS and thwarting their efforts.
So, the "silence" you hear and may misconstrue as inaction, in fact is the stealth-like wheels of geek-dom in action. Programmers, digital analysts, hackers, and even gamers are joining the cause. And if you rankle at the idea of Google and Facebook "owning" your personal data profile, ostensibly to upsell new products to you, remember that same kind of data can also be used to keep us safe. This just may be one of those moments when "Big Brother" can be used for the greater good.
The Visible Digital Trail
The second front is placing a vibrant collective consciousness publicaly on everyday digital platforms in response to ISIS's exquisite PR machine. They monitor our news and our social media, gleefully awaiting our "Shock and Awe" after a successful attack. They're exultant as we divide on whether to embrace the glut of their victims -- Syrian refugees. Yet ISIS has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion. They chortle as we miss the simple point of the Arab proverb, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
And when we succumb to blind ignorance and cowardice by assuming all Muslims are our enemy, we prove the very point ISIS is making about us. No Muslim as president; closing U.S. Mosques; helping only Christian refugees; requiring a Muslim registry. These impulses are as ignorant as our internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. And this thinking begins to enter the slippery slope of Hitler's full-on delirium that Jews were the cause of society's evils. ISIS has reverse-engineered the psychology of Americans and is watching us take the bait of fear.
This is where you and I can make a big difference. But, we cannot blink. We must fervently voice our resolve and courage through an outpouring of compassion. We must not fear, but rather embrace the Syrian refugees. They're also victims of ISIS, but have lost everything. By doing the right thing in the name of humanity, we'll also win the PR and social media war, disproving ISIS's claims about us. If you're afraid there will be a few bad apples among those Syrian refugees, you'd be right. They're in any given population -- at your school, in your workplace, and your apartment complex. But that doesn't mean that they're agents of ISIS. And for those who are, we can out-geek them.
In the end, doing the right thing always wins out over being a coward. Now's the time to shed our cloak of fear and flood the digital universe -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Periscope and every available web site and blog -- with support for all of ISIS's targets, whether Western or not. Do it online and do it in practice. Invite refugees into our communities, learn about their culture, show them the promise of the U.S. By being fearless and compassionate we can snuff out the power of terrorism over us.
The greatest humiliation for ISIS is if we are undaunted and are we are a vocal digital majority. If we can do it for Marriage Equality, we can do it against ISIS. The movement could be #Fearless #EnemyofmyEnemy #Dauntless #GoodPrevails #DigitalLove #ISISLoses or whatever you want to call it. Just show ISIS that you're unassailable.
Anne Zeiser is a critically-acclaimed transmedia and social impact producer and media strategist. She's stewarded films and iconic series for PBS, produced news for CBS, managed national brands for marketing firms, and founded Azure Media, which develops transmedia projects on air, online, and on the go that fuel social impact in communities, in schools, and in capitals. With media partners from PBS and the BBC to Miramax and Sikelia Productions, Zeiser has successfully launched and marketed film studios and media organizations, feature and documentary films, television series and specials, mobile games and apps, and online video and media communities. She's the author of Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media from Focal Press' American Film Market® Presents book series.