Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, speaks to a senate panel about social media and terrorism. (screengrab from C-Span.org)
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, speaks to a senate panel about social media and terrorism. (screengrab from C-Span.org)
Media worldwide have at times exaggerated the strength of ISIS terrorists due to a combination of their use of social media and an inability of the press to do effective warzone fact checking, a U.S. Senate panel was told Thursday.

A Senate hearing Thursday on ISIS briefly touched upon press coverage, with one expert noting rampant reports that began last fall of ISIS taking over the Libyan port city of Derna.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that ISIS’ “social media dominance” led to the widespread reports that it had taken over the city, replete with images of its flag over at least one major government building.

That was simply wrong, he noted.

“The way the news cycle works now,” he said, there “was no competing information. The media has much less fact checking, so it’s much easier to have an invented fact out there, which is exactly what happened with Derna.”

In fact, multiple factions control Derna. But for a long period you had “a cycle in which ISIS pushes out its message and, unfortunately, the media pushed back the same message,” he said.

Among those also testifying before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, was Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert at the New America Foundation who also serves as national security analyst for CNN.

When it came to questions on CNN’s decision-making regarding Derna, and how it decides what to air from murky spots like it, Bergen declined to respond. He said he didn’t know what CNN said about Derna.

Like many outlets, it did report last November that ISIS was in control of the city of 100,000 on the Mediterranean.

But the larger point was in some ways an old one: the unavoidable challenge of reporting on any war-torn zone where access for outside media is scant, even non-existent.

Terrorists’ social media savvy only complicates matters, it was clear.