Friday, September 16, 2011

NATO, Taliban Take War to Twittersphere

NATO, Taliban Take War to Twittersphere

It may be the first time two warring entities have taken to taunting each other online, but the Taliban and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been taken potshots at each other on Twitter. (ISAF is the NATO-led organization that has been operating in Afghanistan to help grow the Afghan National Security Forces, and to help fight the insurgent Taliban.)

According to an article in the (London) Guardian, the Twitter spat — coincidentally called a "flame war" in Internet lingo — flared up as a 20-hour Taliban assault on Kabul was drawing to a close.

The first volley came from the ISAF media account, which goes by @ISAFmedia: "Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm's way?" (Spox is Twitter shorthand for spokesman.)

The Taliban's spokesman, Abdulqahar Balki (whose Twitter handle is @ABalkhi), who was forced to respond within Twitter's 140-character limit on all messages, said, "@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n 'harm's way' fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout 'harm's way'"

(Translated from text speak, the message said, "ISAF media, I don't know. You have been putting them in 'harm's way' for the past 10 years. (You have) razed whole villages and markets. And (you) still have the nerve to talk about 'harms way'(?)")

But as in all wars, the other side is not willing to concede the last word in, so @ISAFmedia said, "Really, @abalkhi? UNAMA reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities http://goo.gl/FylwU."

To translate: "I doubt the accuracy of your facts, Balki, and I think you're a dirty little liar. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says that 80% of civilian casualties are caused by you and your army of murderers. Here's proof at this website." (Note: I may have embellished his response a little bit.)

To which @abalkhi (not so) wittily responded, "@ISAFmedia UNAMA is an entity of whom? mine or yours?"

Translation: "ISAF, isn't UNAMA your colleague? I doubt the objectivity of your source."

While @ISAFmedia stopped responding to @abalkhi — thus conceding that all important last word — he did later send a link to a YouTube video to @alemarahweb, another Taliban organization, taunting, "Hey @alemarahweb, does your boss do this?" The video was of General John Allen, commander of NATO-led forces, checking up on his troops after the Kabul attacks.

Later, another tweet said, "Biz as usual in #Kabul. Saw a young girl on her walk to school today. Take that, Taliban!"

As someone whose day job it is to help other companies use social media, I'm very intrigued by this ongoing war of words between these two factions. Normally, Twitter is used to share information, have conversations with people, or publicly serve up a petty little spat between two egotistical computer geeks. I have never seen anyone openly taunt a war-time enemy with it.

Frankly, it's both awesome and a little frightening at the same time. And it makes me wonder how Twitter would have been used 150 years ago:

@SittingBull: Hey, @Gen_Custer, are you guys lost? Intel says you guys are lost.

@Gen_Custer: No.

@SittingBull: Then why don't you get lost?

@Gen_Custer: Big talk for an old man. You think you can make me?

@SittingBull: I don't make a horse's ass, I just make 'em run away.

@Gen_Custer: Yeah? You and what army?

Or like this:

@Odysseus: L8r, @TrojanArmy, we're outta here. Tired of the war, tired of your crappy city. Left you a gift — a big horse sitting outside your gates.

@TrojanArmy: Good riddance @Odysseus. Tired of C-ing yr ugly mug 4 last 10 yrs. Thanx 4 yr surrender gift. Prob'ly turn it into playground r smthn.

While I'm sure there have been wartime insults trade throughout history — and more than a few that resulted in wars — this is the first time we've been able to see these insults and taunts traded so publicly and easily found online.

And while I'm not knocking @ISAFmedia's efforts, with the world watching us, I think we need to step up our online taunting a little more, so we don't sound like the French knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Maybe we could hire some insult comics to run some counter-insult Twitter accounts. While I'm sure there are some netiquette (Internet etiquette) rules NATO has to follow, I don't think it's over the line to throw in a few deep-cutting, morale-destroying insults designed to decimate the resolve of the enemy and show them we mean business.

Like "Your mama's so dumb, she can't spell AK-47."




My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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3 comments:

  1. This is both interesting and in a dark way, hilarious. As I was reading, I also started thinking of all the scenarios throughout history, like the sieges on castles or even President Lincoln vs Jefferson Davis (would love to see Lincoln using Twitter). Custer & Sitting Bull is classic!

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  2. I just thought of this after I posted the comment, but I wonder if or how the military might be using social media as a channel for psyops like the way they used to drop pamphlets from airplanes during Vietnam.

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  3. CK,

    Thanks! I think we have a few Twitter sketch ideas brewing there. I would love to see the classic Lincoln-Douglas debate argued on Twitter.

    E

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