Coalition armed forces are in danger of losing a battle to terrorist organisations because they are failing to counter the use of new media in conflicts, according to a researcher from The Australian National University.
Prakash Mirchandai, a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, says that terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri are adept at using technology to address the public, and through video messages that are reported by news channels and validated by CIA statements, are conducting 'virtual state visits'. He will discuss his research on the impact of new media on the military / media relationship at this week's War 2.0: Political Violence and New Media conference which begins on Wednesday.
Terrorists are relying on new media platforms and using them very effectively, said Mr Mirchandani. But I am not convinced that coalition countries, including Australia, are communicating with similar impact to the Muslim audiences which Al Qaeda holds so dear.
The two terrorist masterminds, Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri, are conducting 'virtual state visits' deep into the heartlands of their enemies through their video messages. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations increasingly use the Internet and new media technologies to spread their message, and are doing so with speed, impact and at little cost.
Mr Mirchandani, a former ABC executive and BBC correspondent, says that new media is presenting a raft of problems that coalition military forces have yet to get a handle on.
At a time when a humble USB stick can be loaded with images of battles and other propaganda material, bypassing the most severe censorship and restrictions from a war zone, and journalists have become primary targets in conflict, new media brings with it a whole series of questions we need to be asking, he said.
Are we making the mistake of using new media to address the audiences of today, when we really should be looking at Generation Y, who have a totally different approach to absorbing and sharing information on the net? If, as has been noted, Gen Y is a tribal and sharing cohort, what does that mean for the training and retaining of military officers at Duntroon and ADFA?