CounterPropaganda · Information operations · Information Warfare

Countering terrorist propaganda online

 (The Philippine Star) |

Expelling the remnant Mautes from Marawi City by Independence Day today would make for fine PR, but pyrrhic if to cost more soldiers’ and civilians’ lives. If government forces truly have them encircled, then starving them into surrender could be just a matter of time. Equally pressing is to cut off Maute jihadist propaganda on the Internet. That would magnify in their minds the inevitability of defeat, and stop them from gathering any more misplaced sympathy. The fight against Islamist terrorists is with arms as well as with cyber tactics.

On the Armed Forces’ request, Facebook has taken down seven pro-Maute accounts. That is a slow process. Military spokesman Gen. Restituto Padilla says 56 more are awaiting removal for hyping supposed Maute feats and AFP follies in the three-week-long Marawi fighting. As soon as one offensive account is trashed, cyber-jihadists swiftly create new ones. More fake news and hate material abound on YouTube and Twitter. There are even instructional videos on how to maximize kills in driving through a crowd. The Islamic State from which Maute draws inspiration expects adeptness in cyber-war from “provinces” of its “global caliphate.”

Terrorists use the internet two ways. Overt is the broadcast of their cause to scare and to recruit. IS reportedly enticed 30,000 volunteers from various lands in 2014-2015 to help it build bases in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. Presently it is directing self-radicalized youths to stay and menace in their homelands. The other use of the Net is to plan and execute attacks via encrypted messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Telegram.

The Economist reports in its latest edition: “Fears that the internet is promoting and enabling Islamist terrorism are not new. But they have become sharper since 2014, when IS established its ‘caliphate’ in parts of Syria and Iraq. It has put much more effort than its older rival, al-Qaeda, into creating sophisticated online propaganda, which it uses to recruit, promote its ideology and trumpet its social and military achievements. It puts as much attention into digital marketing as any big company, says Andrew Trabulsi of the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research group. ’It’s a conversion funnel, in the same way you would think of online advertising.”

IS mastery of internet propaganda is well-known. The counter-extremism London think-tank Quilliam Foundation noted that one IS unit in 2015 released nearly 40 items a day in many languages, including videos of battlefield triumphs and “martyrdoms.” The Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group that tracks global terror networks also saw how a slew of translators, promoters, bloggers, and link creators spread a suicide bombing video within two days in 136 weblinks.

Combatting cyber-jihad obviously is not the military’s job alone. Government’s info-tech and communications agencies need to get into the act. Not only can they air TV-radio public-service plugs on dealing with terror (see Gotcha, 9 June 2017,, but also actively counter internet terrorism. Their best weapon is facts. Like, they can use snippets from two captured videos of the Maute brothers Abdullah and Omar plotting with Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon the Marawi rampage to start right on the Ramadan Muslim season of fasting. That would isolate them for intending to disrupt Christians’ and Muslims’ lives in the country’s only Islamic city.

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Atty. Jay Santiago, Philippine Ports Authority general manager, reacts to our report on the near-shutdown last week of Manila’s North Harbor due to red tape. Released after my piece came out, however, was the long approved license of the private operator. Excerpted to fit:

“On June 29, 2016, or a day before President Duterte assumed office, the previous PPA Board of Directors confirmed the extension of Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc.’s permit, (with) certain conditions:

“Separation of HCPTI’s application into two, one covering its north and the other its south port, (which have) different renewal issues. This would allow PPA to resolve each renewal application independently.

“Submission of additional technical documents, including proof of ownership/possession of the land comprising the port facilities; and indemnity bond in favor of PPA.

“It is not true, as HCPTI alleges, that ‘PPA began imposing piecemeal three new conditions.’ The (new) PPA board only sought to enforce the conditions imposed by the previous one. To date, HCPTI has not complied with two of the three conditions. It has not re-submitted the two separate applications, nor the indemnity bond.

“On May 25, 2017, PPA management elevated to the board HCPTI’s permit renewal. The board, noting that the application was still for the north and south port, instructed management to require two separate applications. The board dispensed with the bond.

To give HCPTI time to complete the submission and in order not to disrupt operations, as the (old) permit would lapse in 15 days on June 9, the board issued a six-month holdover authority. Should HCPTI complete the submission at any time before the lapse of the six months, the (new) 15-year permit would forthwith be issued.”

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