Al-Qaeda’s continually improving and seemingly unopposed aggressive online marketing appears to stand on certain messaging pillars of excellence:
- Quick, accurate, and professional translations into multiple languages
- Web of unconnected unofficial satellite sites and social media addresses to echo rhetoric and act as a regenerative survivable network
- Use of multiple electronic platforms of differing sophistication to reach audiences with cell phones, dial up Internet, private wifi, radio, and publicly traceable computers
- Controversial headline-stealing themes such as the 2009 racist description of the U.S. President as a “house slave”
- Statements with pithy quotable sound bites
- Locals adding relevant hooks to leadership statements to bait their particular communities
- Creative art and music to inspire users and stimulate as many senses as possible
- Ability to bury statements and videos into unrelated sites—such as soccer and weight-lifting websites—to ensure their survivability amidst government and/or web hosting crackdowns
There are a number of government and private websites attempting to undermine al-Qaeda online marketing. One of the most robust promising private efforts can be found at seventhpillar.net. The site appears to be a miniature mirror of al-Qaeda’s initial online library with statements from terrorism victims, reformed violent extremist leaders, and religious heads. Statements are from sources throughout the Muslim world, and most statements are translated into 21 languages. The home page reads that seventhpillar.net “remains strictly non-political, non-religious, unbiased, and independent” and “is not affiliated with any government, government-connected entity, or propaganda”—indicating independence from government ownership, direction, and influence.
Theoretically, an online repository of competing narratives could act as an essential tool for governments, community leaders, bloggers, reporters, and activists to amplify effective voices to force al-Qaeda and affiliates onto the ideological defensive, dissuade those susceptible to violent extremist propaganda, and transform the apathy in some Muslim communities into visceral disgust over al-Qaeda’s massacre of Muslims and impiety.
However, the site has a ways to go to even compete, let alone outshine, al-Qaeda’s online radicalisation efforts.
Popular website monitoring services have neither information on the rating nor any statistics on viewership for seventhpillar.net—indicating an infinitesimal viewership and poor search engine optimisation (meaning an Internet user will have a hard time finding the site during a search engine query).
The following are some recommended vital steps for this site to potentially have a preventative effect on online radicalisation:
- Actively advertise its existence through search engine optimisation, aggressive social media, and links in related websites
- Be devoid of biased government clerical statements
- Offer sound bites and effective stand-alone quotations just as al-Qaeda boils long texts into popularly accessible quotes
- Explain more fully the credentials and shortcomings of the messengers of the competing narratives to give the appropriate weight to the message (seventhpillar.net only has short biographical descriptions of the authors without links for further research)
- Turn the material into downloadable audio and video formats on numerous platforms
- Add more material to the library to increase viewership
Although in dire need of more breadth, depth, and marketing, seventhpillar.neteven in its fledgling state has the potential to somewhat impact those susceptible to radicalisation today because of their sound grounding in accepted Islamic concepts of laws of war and stress on piety and humanity. But it appears more a tool for community leaders than a direct effort to short circuit online radicalisation.
*Note: I am the president of nonprofit Seventhpillar.net and its biggest critic.