This Anti-ISIS Twitter Account Slid Into My DMs Without Asking
Exclusive: Here's what we learned about Australia's social media fight against Islamic State.
It all started when Australia's defence minister Kevin Andrews confirmed the launch of @Fight_DAESH yesterday morning.
The account appears to be part of Australia's $18 million strategy for a 'social media army' to combat ISIS misinformation and stop teens being recruited online.
And the first couple of tweets were pretty, well, guarded, using popular hashtags #DAESHLies and #DefeatDAESH.
They decided to go after one tweet from what appears to be an Islamic State account, @Battar_21.
(FYI "Daesh" is a negative term used by some in the Middle East and the West for ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State. It's an acronym for the group's Arabic name, "al-Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa'al Sham".)
But putting the effectiveness of the first few tweets aside, one detail was striking: the Twitter bird which had been ISIS branded and put in gun sights.
And minutes after sending the tweet this happened. Which is weird because I didn't include their @-tag on the tweet.
How did the account see my tweet? Was it trawling the net for mentions of "ISIS-Twitter bird"? Was I on some watch-list?
Then like something out of a funny joke, the foreign service anti-ISIS account slid straight into my DMs.
Closing my mouth (which had been open agape for two minutes) I thought it was only appropriate to see whether they would reply to questions.
With the key issue put to rest (Twitter's trademark wasn't being illegally misappropriated) the person/people behind @Fight_Daesh told me that it was all a bit of an experiment.
It turned out there were a "few" people running the account from multiple locations to "prove the concept" to superiors.
I still couldn't quite believe what was happening. Knowing their responses could end at any time I decided to go with a question that had been playing on my mind for several minutes.
Note here: This was the first mention of "Media Ops" which is the PR arm of the defence agencies.
Sliding into my DMs was clearly not part of the pre-approved media plan.
(Then again, maybe it was. But I don't think it was).
Pushing on (disappointed they weren't going to be making taxpayer funded memes) I wanted to get an idea of what content they'd be making.
Then there was a bit of silence...
... but they restarted the conversation, mentioning some other government anti-ISIS accounts @sawabcenter and @ThinkAgain_DOS. They were apparently filling a "niche".
Would this social media battlefront be co-ordinated with the US? The UK?
I was learning so much about this propaganda (sorry counter-propaganda lol) account, like which Coalition governments were on board.
With ISIS' sophistication in luring disaffected teens on the internet, how could they compete with some pretty boring tweets?
This point I didn't think was being appreciated by @Fight_Daesh. But it all came to an end when they thought that these unsolicited DMs weren't "on the record".
It was a very surreal experience holding an interview with Australia's social media army via direct message.
It quite clearly showed the impermanence of the Twitter strategy and how under-developed they were in countering the ISIS messages on social media.
Unless of course this is just the very public face, with a more covert campaign (with memes obviously) happening behind the scenes.