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A new era of terrorism is quickly taking over, largely due to its collaboration with the modern mass media and the evolution of social media. The advancements in technology, specifically in the growth of social media, has brought forth a new aspect to terrorism in which social media sites have become a main platform of communication. There’s a wide range of potential with social media websites that allow for message exchanges, propaganda, and the recruitment for new followers in terrorist groups. The fact that many social media websites are convenient, cost-free, and allow a nearly unlimited access to a worldwide audience makes for an ideal stage for terrorist organizations to further their goals and spread their ideology.
In his article “Social Media and Terrorism: Threats and Challenges to the Modern Era”, Md Sazzad Hossain (2018) discusses how terrorist groups are “becoming more organized and dangerous” as a result of the significantly increasing use of social media platforms. Even further, he examines many concepts in which he proposes how we can combat the manipulation of social media by terrorists as a result of this constant growth of social media dependency. In many ways, social media has been a great addition to our society, such as advancing the speed in which news is delivered and allowing us to communicate more effectively. It’s worth noting, however, that the negatives outweigh the positives significantly in the case of using these websites to manipulate, recruit, spread violence, and propaganda for a terrorist organizations ideology.
Social media is internet-based applications or websites that allow for users to create their own content, as well as build social relationships among others who share similar interests, backgrounds, and hobbies. In theory, social media is a convenient method for individuals to connect and share information with anyone across the globe. It’s a way to keep up with distant relatives, to quickly and efficiently share information, and a way to connect with others. It’s not difficult to see why these websites and apps are so popular among individuals all over the world, but Hossain reasons that this advancement in modern technology and communication has created a new era of terrorism. This is an era in which terrorist organizations have potentially unlimited potential to influence an audience and spread propaganda. Specific apps in particular, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp, have been a facilitator to giving terrorist groups the opportunities to recruit and spread their ideology. Twitter is a leading example, as it is easy to navigate, provides different privacy options, and has an incredibly large scale of users to potentially influence or target. It was observed by Hossain that many groups, such as the IS and Al-Shabaab, use Twitter for the open layout of the website as it is most advantageous and accessible for their goals. They use Twitter for the purpose of achieving operational communication, information sharing, recruiting, training, and intelligence gathering.
However, the main cited reason for the use of open platform websites, such as Twitter, by terrorist organizations is that they strengthen the group’s connection and more efficiently magnify propaganda to mainstream media and the public. Social media in general allows these organizations to promote an online community and introduce a sense of belonging in those they recruit, and these communities have an incredible growth rate when they are left unmonitored by a website’s content moderator. In fact, the author cited a study from The Brooking Center for Middle East Policy that found that between September and December of 2014, around 46,000 to 70,000 accounts on Twitter alone are IS supporters or members (Berger & Morgan, 2015). It is worth noting that many of these internet platforms actively attempt to suspend suspected terrorist accounts and limit suspected terrorist activity. However, the major flaw of their own websites is that they can do nothing to stop those same groups from simply creating new accounts. Almost immediately, they create another profile and all of their friends and followers are moved to this new account.
The reality of these online communities is that they will continuously modify and respawn throughout their supporting networks across the internet world. Hossain contends that as a result of this, without fail, they will continuously remain active and online with an audience. It is widely known that what is posted on the internet will most likely live there forever. This means that even if many group’s content or propaganda is compromised by a platform moderator or other authority, there is still a significant amount of material that has accumulated over time and will most likely continue to be readily accessible for those seeking it. Even if many of these internet platforms are successful in terminating active terrorist accounts, the organization’s messages can continue as their content will be reposted throughout social media if these platforms aren’t able to keep on top of moderating the content posted on their websites. Hassain noted that the fight against terrorism doesn’t have to end with social media and the many complications that stem from privacy rights. He recommends taking urgent action against social media terrorism in several ways, such as actively campaigning against terrorism using social media as well, from a governmental and non-governmental standpoint. By increasing awareness among people using these platforms, Hassain believes that this heightened awareness will make tracking down suspected individuals trying to target or influence people easier to stop.
Proper campaigning could also help clarify distortions of religious justification and actions used by terrorist groups, helping the general public become more aware of what is and isn’t correct. Along with the help with increased awareness, the author supplements that making sure law enforcement agencies and intelligence units have adequate training and are well equipped with the right technological instruments is also of high importance. These units and agencies are the base of who we can expect to responsibly and lawfully monitor social media terrorism both inside and outside of the country. The goal Hassain seems to be aiming for is collective action and international cooperation with all social media companies and their country’s government to fight against any kind of terrorist activity on their platforms, both at a national and international level. He deems it is important to address this issue by implementing as much legislation and cooperative input in order to prevent and control terrorist activity as effectively as possible in order to, “uphold the peace and security of the world” (2018). Even though almost every social media company already has its own privacy policies in place, their willingness to cooperate with local governments towards combating terrorist activities on their platforms is crucial. The success of limiting their terrorist organizations ability to reach the masses, but without breeching the privacy rights of individuals using these websites. Of course, this has to be established effectively in accordance to specific Acts, rights to privacy, and the rights to freedom of speech and expression.
In the course of the last decade, the growth of social media has significantly changed many of the ways in which our world communicates. It has become a main source of knowledge, and is a common connection for many of us. These advancements have brought forth a new era in which social networking platforms are no longer just a way to catch up with a 2nd cousin, or to see what Buzzfeed quiz will tell you what type of bread you are. Social media is now a live platform in which the affordability, convenience, and uniting factors of this creation are now a source for exchanging information and planning acts of violence. It is a means to an end being manipulated by organizations motivated by religious justifications and ideology. These groups are constantly adapting with the growing dominance of social media in this world, and until we are able to actively prevent the abuse of social media by terrorist organizations, they are continuing to threaten the security of our nation.
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