A US defence policy researcher has urged the US government to support the online hacktivist collective Anonymous in its fight against Islamic State (Isis).
Emerson Brooking, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested the government should use semi-anonymous digital currency bitcoin in order to fund the efforts of Anonymous in taking down websites and social media accounts associates with IS.
In an article published in Foreign Policy on 3 March, Brooking questioned: "How is it that the US government, capable of coordinating a complex air campaign from nearly 6,000 miles away, remains virtually powerless against the Islamic State's online messaging and distribution network?"
Social media has provided a key platform for IS to spread propaganda to a worldwide audience and gain sympathisers and supporters to its vision of an Islamic Caliphate.
Recent estimates from the Brookings Institution, a non-profit research organisation, suggested there are around 45,000 Twitter accounts used by IS supporters, producing around 200,000 tweets and retweets daily.
In January, Anonymous released a list of more than 900 Twitter accounts suspected to belong to Islamic militants in an effort to have them removed by the social media giant.
At the time, a source within Anonymous told IBTimes UK that IS conducted a hydra-like operation on Twitter that allowed them to rapidly gain followers and continue to spread its message.
Change perspective of Anonymous to help Isis battle
As well as its success in raising awareness of Isis-related social media accounts, the amorphous online collective has also succeeded in taking down dozens of jihadist websites. Considering this, Brooking suggested the US government should adjust its view of Anonymous as a menace, and consider it a temporary ally in the fight against IS.
"If the United States is struggling to counter the Islamic State's dispersed, rapidly regenerative online presence, why not turn to groups native to this digital habitat?" Brooking wrote. "Why not embrace the efforts of third-party hackers like Anonymous to dismantle the Islamic State - and even give them the resources to do so?"
One way of implementing this "fig leaf" to the world's hacktivists would be through offering bounties paid in bitcoin for every jihadist site taken down through phishing or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
There are several issues that would need to be overcome before any agreement of this kind could be reached, one of which would be whether the US government could buy up bitcoin with public money considering the lack of regulation surrounding it.
It could also jeopardise the identity of Anonymous members, who may be wanted by authorities on separate charges relating to their online activities.
"Nonetheless, rallying a cybermilitia via a smart system of micropayments - therefore expanding the war against the Islamic State without compromising hacktivists' fringe credentials - is still preferable to ham-fisted alternatives," Brooking concludesd
"Loosely affiliated hacktivists have spent years honing their ability to harass and disrupt in this same domain. They also hate the Islamic State and all it stands for. Why not work with them."