ISIS and Radicalization

It would be easy to find people willing to condemn ISIS as evil. They would also prosecute people who are beginning to be radicalized to prevent them from supporting the terrorist organization.

However, that quick leap to judgement is not helpful in eliminating terrorism. Once you label an organization as evil, you can get lazy.

By focusing on the evil of ISIS, you don’t need to understand them. In addition to defeating them militarily, we need to combat the political themes they promote. Without understanding why ISIS is attractive to some people, we can’t deny them the thought-virus that they spread.

I never see the grievances and concepts that nourish the ISIS movement. The public message is that they’re evil and that’s all we need to know. We want to prevent radicalization, but don’t try to understand the process as it develops.

When the news reports someone as being radicalized, we can get lazy again. We don’t have to understand what they believe or how they arrived there. We don’t have to see the reasons that they embraced violence and hatred–there’s no reason to see that because we’ve already cast them out. But that’s too late in the process to make a difference.

David Talbot in “Fighting ISIS Online” (MIT Technology Review. Nov. 1, 2015. v. 118, no. 6) describes that contacts from friends and peers can help the propaganda create new recruits. But he also describes that friends and peers can be persuasive in pushing back. It can take a small intervention to be beneficial. The article describes how one-on-one contact was able to reverse a transformation that the FBI was watching from a distance, yet impotent to change.

Working with friends to help them see a different perspective doesn’t let you release sexy rhetoric about our war with ISIS. However, it does help combat the organization one person at a time.

A sympathetic ear and supportive encouragement can work where the pronouncements of the powerful are failing miserably.


I’ve learned that when people close to me are skeptical about a task I want to do, listening is a wonderful skill.

I was going to take two classes this summer, but listening showed me that that’s probably not a good idea.

I think it would be cool to build a photographic collection of hubcap designs. One part of the project would photograph the front and back of the car so that I could look up the car’s year. Listening said that that’s probably going to creep some people out, so perhaps it’s not a good idea.

The product of two minds is probably better than one. It only adds up.

The Facebook Experience

I used to have a facebook account, but was very dissatisfied. I wasn’t comfortable with its addictive nature. Also, more often than not, I was self-conscious about adding information that didn’t fit social norms in times of stress.

It seemed that people preferred to submit clever graphics and people could leave the real “them” out. Just put up a facade–all is well. The last straw for me was when they suggested that I might be employed by a fellowship I belong to.

The reason the facebook topic came up with me again is that a course at IUPUI that I was thinking of taking included facebook postings as part of the coursework. I didn’t really want to get an account again. Hence the conflict.


Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford University has studied persuasive technology. He calls it captology. His definition of persuasive is slightly different than the natural one. Persuasive means to cause a desired behavior. It isn’t about the cognitive persuasion to think about an issue a certain way. In his method, you pick a behavior you want to increase, make it easy to do and then prompt the behavior. The behaviors can be tiny such as to click a “Like” button or complex and have you to log in and update your content.

Facebook uses persuasive technology to increase income for the company. The users of facebook need to encourage people to advertise there. “Like” is a simple behavior. It seems to indicate that you’re engaged with a vendor’s products and services. On Veritasium, suggests that a “like” may not be what it seems.

The part where I get uncomfortable is that facebook has covert information that it can use to manipulate the interaction. People think of the website interacting solely with them, but with billions of users, facebook knows how people act in aggregate and can notice how to make a change with a tiny impact but is statistically significant. By combining these impacts, they can be manipulative and do it without being detected. They can manipulate the users and they can manipulate the advertisers.

One can’t be naive and think that facebook does things are solely for the benefit of its users. When one starts a post and then erases it, facebook’s software can notice. Since they know when this happens, they can find ways to encourage people add content more freely. They also target what you see to what they know you are more likely to attend to and not what you might value.

They knew that many of my friends belonged to a fellowship, so it was natural to blindly propose, to me who hadn’t listed an employer, that I might be employed in the same place.

With facebook they are capable of knowing more about you than you can imagine. They use that to make their shareholder’s wealthy. When I see an ad on YouTube, I know it is an advertisement. I can ignore it if I want. If you’re being persuaded to participate in advertising without knowing that you are being marketed to, that’s where the facebook experience is letting the smoke and mirrors conceal the real interaction. In “Captology and the Friendly Art of Persuasion” by Lynn Griener (*) comments “Advertisers may, for example, be able to get away with sneaky and intrusive tactics” and that “facebook must play it straight.” However, with huge data resources and insatiable stockholders, facebook’s straight can be pretty crooked.

(*) Greiner, Lynn. “Captology and the Friendly Art of Persuasion,” NetWorker, Fall 2009. doi: 10.1145/1600303.1600306