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Attacks of Positivity

This article (link to ) discusses an approach suggested by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg on how to fight ISIS’ admittedly thriving social media strategy.

“The best thing to speak against recruitment by Isis are the voices of people who were recruited by Isis, understand what the true experience is, have escaped and have come back to tell the truth … Counter-speech to the speech that is perpetuating hate we think by far is the best answer.”

My Take

ISIS uses some incredibly sophisticated methods that are based in solid cognitive science and persuasive design. They are great at framing their narrative in a way that is engaging and convincing. They hit just the right affective buttons. They leverage powerful cognitive heuristics to anchor, confirm, and solidify their legitimacy in the minds of their prospective recruits and to incite action. It is scary just how good they are at it.

But this only works because it takes place in a filter bubble. In addition to making their own case, they also disparage the other side and encourage prospects not to read any other sources. So what Sandberg suggests is to use counterspeech directly on ISIS social media. She uses an example of a German “’like’ attack.” Post lots of positiveness and happy thoughts to water down the message ISIS is trying to send. If this is done before the prospect moves enough along the user journey (see, I told you it was human factors) to reach the point of private conversation, it could put a halt to the process.

This got me wondering what the most effective comments to achieve a “like” attack would be. It wouldn’t be to click “Like” because that is too easy to remove by the admin and ignore by the readers. But what about comments that show respect for the non-ISIS party? What about comments with a simple but commonsensical inconsistency in the ISIS argument? Just enough to plant seeds of doubt.

If they put enough time into it, I am sure that the ISIS social media coordinators could eliminate anything they could recognize as being counterproductive to their cause. But that is part of the point. If it takes time, perhaps prospects would read some of it first. So the comments could be nuanced enough that it would take some time for the coordinator to identify it. Or at least it would distract the coordinators for enough time to reduce their effectiveness in other areas.

Your Turn

Two questions for you today.

  1. Based on your knowledge of and experience in human factors do you think this approach is promising? If not, would something similar be?
  2. What kinds of comments or other social media engagement do you think would be best suited for this? Specific is great, but even general approaches would be appreciated.

Image credit: “Twitter” by LoboStudioHamburg used under CC0 1.0

One thought on “Attacks of Positivity”

  1. There is already an update on this story. Apparently, ISIS got angry that is was not getting credit for the Paris attacks. The news said they were “ISIS inspired” but not “ISIS planned and executed.” They released a video trying to prove that they had a hand in organizing the attacks.

    I saw this today in the Media Line:

    “But Eliot Higgins, a founder of the Bellingcat, the vaunted website for citizen investigative journalism and a visiting research associate at King’s College, tweeted in response “Latest ISIS video is the usual nonsense for losers, lots of badly grown beards and overdone graphics. There, saved you watching it..”

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