How Crowdsourcing Can Help Us Fight ISIS

 at the Huffington Post: “There’s no question that ISIS is gaining ground. …So how else can we fight ISIS? By crowdsourcing data – i.e. asking a relevant group of people for their input via text or the Internet on specific ISIS-related issues. In fact, ISIS has been using crowdsourcing to enhance its operations since last year in two significant ways. Why shouldn’t we?

First, ISIS is using its crowd of supporters in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to help strategize new policies. Last December, the extremist group leveraged its global crowd via social media to brainstorm ideas on how to kill 26-year-old Jordanian coalition fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasba. ISIS supporters used the hashtag “Suggest a Way to Kill the Jordanian Pilot Pig” and “We All Want to Slaughter Moaz” to make their disturbing suggestions, which included decapitation, running al-Kasasba over with a bulldozer and burning him alive (which was the winner). Yes, this sounds absurd and was partly a publicity stunt to boost ISIS’ image. But the underlying strategy to crowdsource new strategies makes complete sense for ISIS as it continues to evolve – which is what the US government should consider as well.

In fact, in February, the US government tried to crowdsource more counterterrorism strategies. Via its official blog, DipNote, the State Departmentasked the crowd – in this case, US citizens – for their suggestions for solutions to fight violent extremism. This inclusive approach to policymaking was obviously important for strengthening democracy, with more than 180 entries posted over two months from citizens across the US. But did this crowdsourcing exercise actually improve US strategy against ISIS? Not really. What might help is if the US government asked a crowd of experts across varied disciplines and industries about counterterrorism strategies specifically against ISIS, also giving these experts the opportunity to critique each other’s suggestions to reach one optimal strategy. This additional, collaborative, competitive and interdisciplinary expert insight can only help President Obama and his national security team to enhance their anti-ISIS strategy.

Second, ISIS has been using its crowd of supporters to collect intelligence information to better execute its strategies. Since last August, the extremist group has crowdsourced data via a Twitter campaign specifically on Saudi Arabia’s intelligence officials, including names and other personal details. This apparently helped ISIS in its two suicide bombing attacks during prayers at a Shite mosque last month; it also presumably helped ISIS infiltrate a Saudi Arabian border town via Iraq in January. This additional, collaborative approach to intelligence collection can only help President Obama and his national security team to enhance their anti-ISIS strategy.

In fact, last year, the FBI used crowdsourcing to spot individuals who might be travelling abroad to join terrorist groups. But what if we asked the crowd of US citizens and residents to give us information specifically on where they’ve seen individuals get lured by ISIS in the country, as well as on specific recruitment strategies they may have noted? This might also lead to more real-time data points on ISIS defectors returning to the US – who are they, why did they defect and what can they tell us about their experience in Syria or Iraq? Overall, crowdsourcing such data (if verifiable) would quickly create a clearer picture of trends in recruitment and defectors across the country, which can only help the US enhance its anti-ISIS strategies.

This collaborative approach to data collection could also be used in Syria and Iraq with texts and online contributions from locals helping us to map ISIS’ movements….(More)”