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ISAF vs Twitter vs intelligent analysis…

June 20, 2012

By Tim Foxley

The It’s Always Sunny in Kabul blog has posted a characteristically helpful and comprehensive round up of some of the more recent issues involving the Taliban and ISAF’s ongoing Twitter war.  But I can’t help wondering where we now go with the criticisms of ISAF and Twitter?  It seems to me that the Twitter issue is an enormous cul-de sac (a “self-licking lollipop” would be the expression used in my old working environment).  As is rightly pointed out by Sunny in Kabul, you can’t put across intelligently honed messages on the system and you are probably doing something wrong if that is what you are trying to do.  You can’t measure what effect you are having and you essentially surrender the initiative (and tie yourself down) to people who may or may not be main stream Taliban.   (Incidentally, I have it in my head that the @ABalkhii (ie with two “i”s) Twitter address is some other intelligence organisation’s info op, surely?).

If we don’t know what effect a particular strand of Taliban activity is having, then how can we possibly hope to decide in a coherent fashion what should be done about it?  If Taliban Tweets have no impact on hearts and minds, fund-raising, recruitment, etc, then why bother spending resources countering it?  Presumably, if ISAF is (over)reacting to Taliban statements on Twitter it is because they either don’t understand what it is about but feel the urge to be seen to be doing something or it is because they have assessed Taliban Tweets to be a significant cause of propaganda concern and it must be countered because it is damaging the war effort.

In short – don’t counter stuff just for the hell of it and if you can’t measure the effect of either your or the Taliban’s efforts in this arena, then you run the risk of completely wasting your time and resources…

…time and resources that could be more intelligently used.  I really hope that people are spending a bit of time looking at the wealth of statements, judgements, advice, dogma, pronouncements and general “engagement” that is coming from the Taliban messages on their website.  And I wouldn’t start by dismissing this all as “lies” and go from there.  The Taliban are saying lots of things for lots of reasons – lies certainly feature, but also disinformation, misunderstanding, genuine belief, changes in policy, outlook, world view, shifts in strategy, internal dilemmas and disagreement, errors, uncertainty…  We should spend time looking at this “proper” content and try for a better and more usable understanding of what they are saying, how they are saying it, why they might be saying it, what it might mean and, yes, how we might engage with it beyond “tit for tat” playground level exchanges, as we move forward into what looks to be very uncertain waters.    The bad news is the Twitter war is poisoning the well for intelligent messaging.  The good news, it is not damaging the well to any real depth…

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