Contrary to what is commonly believed, the tactics which have succeeded in the war on terror are those which were most aggressive and overwhelming. We succeed when we behave like raging barbarians, and fail when we act like wimps.
The original blitzkrieg orchestrated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Operation Shock and Awe) was extremely effective and drove Saddam Hussein from power in a matter of weeks. The surge (Senator John McCain’s idea) was also effective in keeping terrorists from having strongholds. Then the US tried to hang around to police and rebuild. More passive and theoretically humanitarian methods like drones have been less effective, and have also caused much more backlash than our barbarian tactics.
Social media has played a huge role in the war on terror because terrorists use it to recruit, coordinate and publicize their activities. When ISIS slices off another head, the video hits social media within hours and is worldwide inside of five minutes, serving to both radicalize the already alienated and to create an allure of danger and escape from the tedium of modern society. So far, our approach to social media — “surveillance” — has failed alongside other soft tactics like Iraqi reconstruction, troop drawdowns and political appeasement.
Several incidents show us the failure of our approach. During the Orlando Pulse nightclub slaughter, the terrorist paused many times to update his social media presence while he was shooting unarmed people. Twitter served as an indispensable communication channel for ISIS during recent months, and now we learn how the truck-kamikaze from Nice posted to Facebook in anticipation of the attack. Add this to the network of people spreading jihadist publications, instructions, steganographic encrypted communications and propaganda, and social media serves terror quite well.
It is important to remember that the objective of terrorism and guerrilla warfare in the postmodern environment is to influence the media. The Vietcong knew this, which is why they waged a militarily losing campaign with the Tet Offensive, knowing that the panic induced by media reports would make it a political victory. Terrorists used hostage standoffs to get as much media attention as possible, creating a spectacle that would dominate the airwaves. School shooters did the same thing, leaving behind manifestos and mementos for human interest stories. Since the news is our centralized source of information on the world, it has become a target for manipulation.
Social media is best understood as a different form of media, but still a form of media. Most younger people get their news through social media currently, and this trend is increasing. Monitoring and taking down celebratory posts by terrorists will not stop or mitigate terror. The time has come to decide whether we are serious about winning the war on terror. The only way to do this is to take down social media itself until the war on terror is won.
“But muh First Amendment!” people will say. The fact is that Twitter and Facebook have a first amendment right to say what they want, but that does not apply to running a service where others do the same. Twitter and Facebook can issue press releases with their opinions. The speech of people on those services is what is in question, and since these social media services are being used to further terror, we can force them to take their speech somewhere else. This is akin to shutting down a vacant lot where terrorists gather to swap tips and deliver loud ranting speeches, rather than censorship of the speeches themselves.
I would rather live in a terror-free world than have the convenience of posting selfies to casual acquaintances with the ease of a throwaway comment. Social media acts as a key tool for terrorist recruitment and has a corrosive effect domestically as our homegrown radicals, from Black Lives Matter to God Hates Fags, use it to spread their notoriety and influence.
In times of war, sacrifices must be made in order to achieve victory. The recruitment and propaganda arm of the enemy is largely executed via social media. We need to break their encrypted networks as well and bomb their headquarters tents, but we should start with what is already under our control. Terrorism is largely motivated by the desire to influence the media. Shutting down social media will deprive the terrorists of their most powerful weapon and we should do it, until this war is won.