Terrorist use social media for two major purposes including communicating between one another and expanding their groups through recruitment. Terrorists use social media as a means of passing along information and this type of communication may appear innocuous because it is planned or coded. This type of communication is often used alongside of disposable cell phones and other difficult to trace communications devices.
The larger more obvious communication that these groups perform using social media is the advertising of propaganda for the purpose of recruitment. This has resulted in a growth of self-radicalized individuals. Many reecent attempted attacks were the result of self-radicalized individuals who became sympathizers with ISIL propaganda which is dispersed through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Echoing other terrorist groups, ISIL has advocated for lone wolf attacks. This past January, ISIL released a video via social media networking sites reiterating the group’s support of lone offender attacks in Western countries. This video specifically advocates for attacks against soldiers, law enforcement, and intelligence members. Several incidents have occurred in the United States and Europe over the last few months that indicate this “call to arms” has resonated among ISIL supporters and sympathizers (Steinbach, 2015).
One of the primary goals that has been successful in combating terrorism is the monitoring of social media. This surveillance has provided the ability to create a more effective and efficient channel for intercepting and identifying threats. Since 2007, agencies have been responsible for thwarting hundreds of domestic terrorist attacks through effective reporting of these incidents which largely came from social media monitoring. The threat of homegrown violent extremists appears to be more of a risk at present than border crossing terrorists and as such the use of social media will be increased by terrorists in order to facilitate more attacks. It would be much more difficult to cross the border to enter the US and commit terrorist acts then to inspire individual sympathizers within the US borders using propaganda shared on social media channels.
Steinbach, M. (2015, February 26). Testimony. Retrieved from Federal Bureau of Investigation:
I am not sure what these groups are trying to achieve by showing graphic images and video of innocent people being killed. In my mind, this type of action is counterproductive because it further galvanizes other nations against these groups. If I were to see video of that nature it would not make me want to join one of these groups. But for some people this is a motivating force. In 2015, several incidents were reported in congressional hearings including one incident in which American extremists were found to be responsible for providing aid to ISIL:
…in St. Louis, five Bosnians were charged with providing material support to ISIL. The suspects allegedly provided weapons, military uniforms, and equipment and money to a sixth Bosnian who left the United States in 2013 to join ISIL and Syria. Alarmingly, all six individuals are natives of Bosnia who immigrated to the United States. Three are now naturalized citizens and the remaining three have either refugee or legal residence status. But the threats posed by ISIL’s hateful ideology are not purely external. Inciting Americans to join their ranks or to ally their selves with ISIL’s mission is a pivotal component in their campaign of violence against America and its people (Committee on the Judciary House of Representatives, 2015).
This incident among others, occurred days after ISIL released a video of a beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. I think these situations highlight an important aspect of radicalization. As a person, anyone who would look at a video of this nature and think “yeah they somehow are doing the right thing”, then there is obviously something else going on in this situation. There must be some complex mix of religion, culture, and circumstance in life to make someone think this way.