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Social Media Proving A Tool For Terrorism

Counterterrorism efforts on social media

A new report by the Woodrow Wilson Centre’s Gabriel Weimann suggests that terrorists are using social media for similar reasons that the rest of the world do. It is quick, easy, and provides anonymous communication. These perks that social media provide are great for the general public, but they are making it difficult for counterterrorism officials to identify and prevent attacks.

counterterrorism and social media
Source: linkedin.com

The new report, titled “New Terrorism and New Media”, has now been released to the public, and Weimann points out “terrorists’ most important purposes online are propaganda, radicalization, and recruitment.” In order to do these things easily, and quickly, social media is a fantastic tool.

Weimann develops and expands this point in the report: “Terrorists have good reasons to use social media. First, these channels are by far the most popular with their intended audience, which allows terrorist organizations to be part of the mainstream. Second, social media channels are user-friendly, reliable, and free. Finally, social networking allows terrorists to reach out to their target audiences and virtually “knock on their doors” — in contrast to older models of websites in which terrorists had to wait for visitors to come to them.”

Weimann has been studying the online behavior and activity of terrorists for many years, and he says that the revelation of groups using the Internet is not a new one, but it is increasing rapidly. He acknowledges that in 1988, just a dozen terrorist websites existed, and now that number has hugely increased to almost 10,000. This is without their social media presence.

He goes onto explain that terrorists are using most of the influential social media sites to recruit militant Islamists, and in his report he actually quotes a jihadi online forum as explaining that: “Facebook is a great idea, and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them! If you have a group of 5,000 people, with the press of a button you [can] send them a standardized message.”

counterterrorism and social media
Source: jeffbullas.com

The report then goes into detail as to which platforms are gaining the most traffic from these groups, with YouTube and Twitter being the most popular. Twitter it seems is the most popular though as it offers anonymous, quick messaging between users.

This report will worry many people, and understandably so, but with public tools such as social media, it is always a risk that it falls into the hands that want to do bad things. This report also throws around the word "terrorist" as if there is a universal understanding of the term, and this is wrong. Whilst anyone who causes harm upon another human being is committing terror, it is also appropriate to consider what others may be fighting for or against before branding someone a terrorist.

It certainly gives an interesting insight into how modern warfare is heading, and the online world is a massive battleground now. It could even get to a point where groups who engage in wars gain the upper hand by how they strategise on social media.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Social Media Proving A Tool For Terrorism Reviewed by Alex Smith on Thursday, May 15, 2014 Rating: 5
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