Social Media as a pivotal tool for the propagation of Islamic extremism and terrorism


Written by Dr Robyn Torok – Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism. Macquarie University.

Since the war on terror began after the events of 9/11, al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists groups have needed to rethink the way they operate, in particular the use of traditional training camps such as those used in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Essentially, terrorists have needed to shift from physical spaces that have been specifically targeted to virtual spaces that enable both a more covert as well as a ubiquitous presence.

Much of the early cyber presence of terrorist groups was through their own web sites, chat rooms and blogs that were specifically created to support the jihad movement. Many of these earlier sites were in Arabic and were also at times closed with password protected forums only open to trusted members. From these humble beginnings, the number of websites grew rapidly and one of the most significant shifts was the move towards English language sites. As part of their operational strategy, al-Qaeda began to specifically target those in Western nations, not only diaspora populations from war torn nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq, but also home grown terrorists referred to as ‘White Moors’.

While such Arabic and English language sites continue to operate, they pose a number of problems for terrorist groups. Firstly, they are often more easily tracked by intelligence organisations allowing their ISP’s to be easily identified. Secondly, the closed nature of these sites made it more difficult for potential recruits to be connected with them, particularly those from the West.

Given these difficulties, terrorist groups have made an important shift to social media platforms such as MySpace, YouTube and Facebook. Perhaps the most famous example is Younis Tsouli, better known as ‘Terrorist 007’ who was responsible for large amounts of internet propaganda especially through the social media site YouTube. His goal was to promote the virtues of jihad and in particular encourage audiences to engage in martyrdom.

Facebook, with over 500 million users presents a wealth of opportunities for al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. Not only does it provide a massive target audience, but it also provides a high degree of anonymity. In addition, Facebook has a strong media interface allowing users to post YouTube videos and links to news stories and other radical websites that help to feed the propaganda machine. Traditional jihad websites are still very much operational but now can be much more easily found and linked via Facebook to Western recruits.

This move to Facebook and other social media sites has been to a large degree very successful for terrorist groups. The huge volume of material on these sites has meant that these groups have been extremely resilient. Even if personal profiles or groups are shut down, they are quickly recreated and networks take very little time to be re-established…To read more subscribe to the magazine today!


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