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US buys ads on Facebook to fight jihadists

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Social media has long been a key battlefield in the war on Islamic extremism.

But the US has found this year that online ads on media like Facebook, rather than posts, are a cost-effective way to fight the jihadist propaganda of the Islamic State and other such groups.

Michael Lumpkin, the State Department’s point man in the “soft power” fight against Islamist extremists, said Thursday at the Defense One Summit in Washington that Facebook’s detailed metrics for advertisers helps the government campaign reach its targets – people who might be groomed online by jihadists.

“Using Facebook ads, I can go within Facebook, I can grab an audience. I can pick country X, I need age group 13 to 34, I need people who liked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or any other set, and I can shoot and hit them directly with messages,” he said. “In some places in the world, it’s literally pennies a click to do it,” he said.

Lumpkin is the Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center at the State Department, a unit focused on both conducting its own campaigns against extremists and coordinating with other groups to the same end, especially in on-line and mobile spaces.

He said that the detailed user data that social media giants collect is crucial in identifying his target audience, on the social media that they prefer.