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Fighting IS propaganda online

A picture of a little boy with his mouth covered with “blood” holding a dismembered hand with the caption “A picture of reality from Aleppo, Syria. A child is saved from the bombings of Syrian President Bashar Assad.”

The bloody image appeared in a radical news website, stirring the emotions of many, a tool for the militant Islamic State (IS) to recruit members.

Except that the little boy in the picture is not Syrian but an American child painted with make-up resembling blood and carrying a fake torn-off hand for Halloween.

“We discovered this image was from an American article titled “The 20 best Halloween Kid Costume ideas for 2014,” said Islamic activist Syafik Alielha.

The manipulation of images and news, intolerant rhetoric compelled Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) to fight back.

“Initially we kept quiet as we wanted to keep the peace. But after awhile, we could not stand it anymore,” said Syafik, an anti-ISIS cyber trooper from NU.

“ISIS’s followers and other militant groups are aggressive, annoying and offensive. They cannot accept differences and are intolerant,” said Syafik.

“They manipulate facts, spin and twist the news. We don’t like their efforts to import Syria’s conflict to Indonesia,” Syafik added.

IS spreads its ideology through Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and religious classes in Indonesia.

Their propaganda has succeeded in drawing at least 500 Indonesians to fight for the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

NU cyber troopers are spread across Indonesia, numbering several hundreds out of which 150 are the core activists. They monitor IS’ publication Dabiq as well as social media for extremist propaganda 24 hours a day.

“Many of NU followers who counter IS’ messages via tweets, Facebook are young people with good knowledge of Islam,” said Syafik.

Syafik also set up two news websites, NU Online and Islami.co, where moderate interpretation of Islam authored by Muslim scholars are uploaded.

NU’s cyber troopers are mainly volunteers who fund the activities out of their own pockets.

While they are no match for IS’ sophisticated and well-funded online machinery which produces slick videos and thousands of tweets per day, NU’s cyber troopers are making headway in shutting down some of the narrative since went to war in cyber space in 2014.

“Many of the pro-IS Twitter accounts are no longer active. There used to be thousands of such accounts. Their numbers have dwindled to the hundreds. They cannot defend their radical argument,” said Syafik.

“We don’t know whether our counter-narrative has helped reduce the number of people joining IS but at the very least it has reduced IS’ influence,” said Syafik.

With the counter-narrative and counter-interpretation of Koranic verses sent out by NU, the public can evaluate for themselves what is the truth, said Syafik.

“The radical groups’ s movements are no longer trusted by Indonesian Muslims,” Syafik added.-thestar

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