The US State Department is seeking a counter-narrative to the propaganda being spread by ISIL, and it is reportedly turning to some of America’s preeminent storytellers for help. According to The Daily Beast, executives from both HBO and Snapchat are part of a team of filmmakers and social media specialists that’s brainstorming how to hamper the effectiveness of ISIL’s messaging.
Citing unnamed industry and government sources, The Daily Beast reports that HBO and Snapchat representatives were invited to Sunnylands, a California retreat known for hosting important government figures, in June to meet with State Department officials on how best to counter the ISIL narrative, which has lured young men from the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States, to join its violent ranks. Mark Boal, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty, is reportedly part of the team assisting the State Department.
Neither HBO nor Snapchat have responded to requests for comment. The State Department, in a statement to Quartz, neither confirmed nor denied the Daily Beast report but noted that film “is an especially powerful medium for building cross-cultural understanding” of world issues. It also said:
Through film, music, and the visual and performing arts, cultural diplomacy helps us make global connections with audiences that are traditionally harder to reach. By supporting creative expression, we help the development of civil society, promote positive role models, and amplify alternative voices.
ISIL (also called ISIS, or the Islamic State) has used some of the same mediums to attract recruits with internet propaganda—often in the form of Hollywood-esque videos that involve, as The Atlantic puts it, “dressing in black like a ninja, having a cool flag, being on television, and fighting for your people.”
Several governments and tech companies have done their part to ensure as few people around the world see ISIL content as possible. But trying to cleanse the internet of ISIL propaganda is like playing a game of whack-a-mole: Delete its execution videos on one website, and they’ll just pop up on another. Remove thousands of Twitter users believed to be connected to ISIL, and thousands more will join.
The State Department has attempted to “troll” ISIL supporters and operatives on various social media networks, but the American government is badly losing an increasingly important war of words.
According to the Daily Beast, the US now wants to connect “influential Hollywood figures” with Middle Eastern filmmakers, to promote powerful stories of young people in the Middle East who have rejected ISIL’s reign of terror and are actively working to make the region a better place to live.