US on ISIS: ‘Watch social media, counter the message’

MANILA, Philippines – US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg urged countries, including the Philippines, to watch social media and use it to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group. 

In an interview with Rappler's Maria Ressa, Goldberg said social media, after all, can push “lone wolves” to launch terror attacks.

“What we need to do, obviously – and it’s true in the Philippine context, the Southeast Asian context, and the global context, certainly true in the United States – is redouble our efforts to work together in law enforcement and intelligence, and watch the social media to see what’s happening out there. Try to counter the message but also be very vigilant,” Goldberg said on Tuesday, September 8. 

He said: “I think what we need to think about in a global sense is how social media presence generates lone wolves and attacks that have really no organic relationships, but instead have a relationship that is one of trying to inspire people to act on their own.”

Ressa then asked Goldberg, “Is it still the ideology, or are they just feasting on feelings of loneliness and marginalization?”

The US ambassador answered, “I think it’s all of the above.”

“I think it has probably a little less to do with ideology. I think if people stopped and thought about what it is that ISIS truly is doing and represents, then that wouldn’t be attractive. But rather, it’s wanting to belong to something, a sense of grievance, a sense of loneliness,” Goldberg explained.

The US ambassador made these statements as refugees flee Syria partly because of the threat of ISIS

Referring to ISIS, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Destroying this death cult is essential, not just to ending the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East but also to ending the threat to Australia and the wider world.”

‘Terrorism has a new frontier’

ISIS also poses a threat to Southeast Asia.

Goldberg said “there is no question” that Malaysians and Indonesians have been fighting in Syria.

On reports that Filipinos have joined ISIS, Goldberg said: “There are a lot of rumors, but nothing concrete. Nor do we see an organic relationship between ISIS and any of the groups here. We’ve seen rhetorical support from some of the groups here for whatever reasons that they may have.” 

“They may be looking for money, they may be looking for prestige. Why they think it’s prestigious, I’m not completely sure, but in their world, maybe that is,” the US ambassador said. 

Rappler earler reported that ISIS is increasingly recruiting followers through social media. (READ: How to fight ISIS on social media)

Ressa wrote in March: “Terrorism has a new frontier: social media – and the winner so far is not the alliance in the room, including the United States, the world’s technology power. It’s the Islamic State, IS also known as Da’esch, a loose Arab acronym, ISIL or ISIS, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, brutal medieval puritans who are luring young fighters to its real-world battleground in record numbers.”

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, explained that ISIS “presents an unprecedented global threat.”

Gunaratna explained in an earlier interview: “Al Qaeda is a kindergarten group compared to ISIS. ISIS is a very powerful terrorist group.” 

“ISIS is not only a Middle Eastern group – it’s a global threat. The world must come together to fight ISIS,” he said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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