Libya consulate attack and the power of social media

It’s a pretty poor movie. In fact, it’s decidedly amateurish. The acting is terrible, the effects are ill-accomplished, and the script is disjointed. Worse than that, it’s clear that it has voice-overs injected that don’t match the audio or line up with the lips of the actors (if you can call them that). The actors weren’t even told what the movie was about. Its director had no clue what he was doing and managed to dump a reported $5 million into a film that had less than a dozen persons at the premier. Nonetheless, this movie (“Innocence of Muslims”) has enraged the Muslim community around the world because of its anti-Muslim propaganda, and in the wake of the violence, it has managed to leave U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens dead.

Stevens, keep in mind, was about as friendly to the Libyan people as a U.S. Ambassador can become in an unstable and volatile nation. Last year, when the Libyan people began to protest their former dictator Moammar Ghadafi as part of what is now called “the Arab Spring”, Stevens threw the support of the U.S. behind them and established diplomatic relationships with the people of the uprising. A year later and he’s dead of smoke inhalation while hiding out in the embassy safe room amid a burning consulate building and arms fire (and RPGs) that also took the lives of other U.S. diplomatic employees who were charged with site protection. The compound was the site of protests over that amateur-hour video, but escalated in what many experts say was a planned attack that masqueraded itself in the film protests. That he died in this way is a sad irony – he played a leading part in bringing freedom to the Libyan people, and yet he died at the hands of the same people.

Behind all of this is the power of social media. This one terrible movie (the trailer is on YouTube) has managed to impact the security of scores of U.S. embassies and consulate offices; it led to four deaths in Libya and has spawned violence and property damage around the world.

I think many of us think of social media as a playtime diversion -- something to do when you’re bored – but if that is all you think it is, then it’s time to wake up. Paul Timm, PSP, (@schoolsecurity on Twitter) conveyed the same message during an ASIS seminar this week on school security, warning all of the middle-aged security managers in the room that ignoring the risks of social media wasn’t going to make their schools even safer, but that intentional ignorance would keep them from knowing about things like online bullying, inappropriate online student-teacher relationships and identity theft risks.

Social media was at hand when Ambassador Stevens’ body was removed from the compound. A photo on The Daily Beast shows mobile phones out in the hands of the men who are carrying an unconscious Ambassador Stevens (he is reported to have died at a local hospital). Social media was at hand during the Arab Spring, and those same phones in the hands of persons carrying Stevens may have been the same ones that beeped with text messages and social media information when Libyans were rising up against Ghadafi.

And it’s not just global politics where social media comes in play. Many of you are back in your offices after being at the ASIS tradeshow in Philadelphia, and it was in Philadelphia last year where youths were organizing into “flash robs” (a variant of “flash mobs”) via text messages, Twitter and other modalities of social communication.

But as much as social media can cause harm, it can also be a power of good. It’s what security managers at stadiums and venues can use to track reports of incidents in the crowds. You can use it at your facilities to set up mass notification systems. It can facilitate group communication within your business or security department.

So rather than choosing to ignore social media (and yes, I know a lot of you, like me, didn’t grow up with social media and don’t come at this stuff naturally), turn on the switch. Get an account. Make efforts in social media to improve your job, and use that effort to honor Ambassador Stevens as well as Sean Smith (a State Department information specialist), and former U.S. Navy Seals Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods (who were working for a private firm providing security protection). Remember that a movie that premiered in a theater back in June didn’t cause violence around the world until its trailer was fed into social media, loaded on YouTube and translated into Arabic. As of this minute, it’s closing in on 3 million views and 50,000-plus comments. You just can’t choose to ignore this anymore.

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