How to Beat ISIS with a Hoax

    How do you kill the ideas that motivate ISIS?

    You can’t do it with reason. You can’t do it with force alone. But you might be able to do it with a hoax. I’ll explain.

    In a prior post I explained why ridiculous rumors travel faster than truth, and the more ridiculous, the better. The simple explanation is that truth is usually boring. If you want people to be interested, you need a big lie. You need something so wrong that people think it must be right. The wrongness – the thing that makes the rumor clearly untrue – is the same thing that drives its telling and retelling. We are drawn to the wrongness of it.

    Case in point, last week I compared the ISIS system – in which rape is used as a recruitment tool – to our civilized system of mutual consent. Predictably, that morphed into “cartoonist favors rape” and Twitter lost its shit. (It was a good weekend for my blog traffic.) Why did people believe I came out in favor of rape? They believed it because it is unbelievable. They tweet it because it is unbelievable. They get mad because they don’t want to live in a world with people who display such unbelievable behavior. Rarely do they stop to consider that unbelievable things are usually false. Our brains tell us exactly the opposite – that the story is so crazy it must be true.

    So let’s use that phenomenon and a few more to design a Hoax Kill Shot for ISIS. We shall use the following facts and tools of influence in our design.

    1. We will design the rumor to be unbelievable (to make it believable)

    2. The hoax will quickly be detected, but it won’t matter.

    3. Focus attention where we want it.

    4. Over time, truth becomes whatever people hear the most.

    5. 20% of any large group believes just about any damned thing.

    6. Appeal to ego and emotion, not logic.

    7. Visual imagery that you can’t get out of your head.

    The hoax would take the form of a fake video of a meeting involving high-level ISIS leaders. I assume ISIS fighters do not know what the leaders of other units look like. And the video would not name the ISIS fighting unit, so it would be hard to verify its authenticity in a war zone.

    The video would appear to be taken on a smartphone by one of the other ISIS leaders in a war-battered room somewhere in Syria. In the fake video, actors pretend to be ISIS leaders bragging about how they take advantage of the young, stupid recruits. The conversation might include various leaders saying such things as…

    – Hahahaha! We send idiots to slaughter so we can enjoy their sisters and mothers. Only winners get to spread their genes.

    – We are collaborating with Israel and have been since the start. There is a secret pact for land-sharing once Assad is defeated.

    – Behind closed doors the leaders mock the suicide bombers as being both gullible and defective in some mental or physical sense. The leaders might say they select suicide bombers on these criteria plus the attractiveness of any wives and sisters the bomber leaves behind.

    – The fake ISIS leaders would use an insulting word (in Arabic) to refer to their gullible cannon-fodder recruits and their even more defective suicide bomb volunteers. The insult needs to be engineered to have Trumplike stickiness.

    – The leaders would brag about spiking the drugs that all ISIS fighters take before battle with some sort of sperm-killing chemical developed by Israel to prevent surviving fighters from someday procreating.

    That’s the general idea. You want the recruits to doubt the sincerity of their leaders. Teens are good at doubting authority. That comes naturally, so it shouldn’t be hard to generate suspicion.

    By now you are saying this hoax would be quickly uncovered, and you would be right. But it won’t matter. The goal is to convince about 20% of ISIS recruits that the video is true. And you can convince 20% of any group to believe any damned thing. All you need to do is try. 

    Let’s say 80% of ISIS folks believe the video is fake. That still leave enough gullible people to cripple a movement. 20% is enough to keep the rumor alive and damage the reputation of the cause. Add bombing to the mix and you can realistically blunt 30-40% of the movement. That should be enough to reduce the problem from World War III to a major inconvenience.

    The reason the hoax would work is that it causes the bad guys to focus on it. From day one, the bad guys would be debating whether it is real, and if not, who exactly made it. The point is to make them TALK about it, even if what they say is how fake it looks. We want their attention, not their reasoning skills. Over time, the things you focus on the most become the most important in your mind. 

    It won’t matter that the vast majority of ISIS knows the video is fake. The rumors will take on their own life and start to acquire their own circumstantial evidence. For 20% of the bad guys, all they will know is that they heard something from somebody and now their personal observations are fitting that theory. Sure enough, they observe that the leaders are spreading their genetic material and the suicide bombers are not. There is just enough truth to the rumors to make them worthy of conversation.

    That’s the basic idea. If you don’t believe we can dupe 20% of ISIS, keep in mind that 20% of the United States believes President Obama was not born in this country. And he has a birth certificate.

    One assumes the CIA is already working hard on psychological operations. I’m just trying to help.

    If you think my blogging is terrible, you should see my books.