Social Media – Radical Islamists seek influence at CHOGM 2011


Written by Eric Flis & Robyn Torok – Directors of the DSAN Group

The fast approaching Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Perth this October, has demonstrated a clear move by protest groups to utilise social media to organise and coordinate disruptions. An analysis of these social media sites confirm that protests will be held and provides an insight into a range of additional threats that security arrangements need to monitor very closely.

The internet, and in particular, social media has become a critical tool in co-ordinating protest and resistance activities. While more traditional means such as text messages may be the preferred co-ordinating devices used at more local levels, when trying to co-ordinate protests that cover more large scale geographical areas, such as between states and across nations, then social media is clearly the preferred mechanism.

Social media has many distinct advantages over text messages. Firstly, is the large amount of data that can be stored, conveyed and transferred between users. This includes maps, meeting points, details of police activities and so forth. Secondly, this data is easily updated and changed in real time. Thirdly, social media is an international phenomena, hence its distinct advantage across nations. Finally, most mobile phones today have internet access with many designed to access social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

However, rather than focus on the dynamic coordination of protests, this article will look at the lead up to the coordination of protest events using social media. In particular, how radical Islamists are seeking influence in such events.

Protest movements seek to unite a diverse range of individuals under a common ideology or belief system. There are many dimensions to these ideologies. Generally speaking, protesting by nature involves a power asymmetry. In other words, individuals having less power protesting against the more powerful. Another critical part of this ideology is the importance of resistance and the need to take action against this power asymmetry.

Regardless of the specific cause being protested, radical Islam shares a strong affinity with these principles of power asymmetry and the need to take concrete action. Essentially, this means that individuals who join protest sites already share certain common characteristics similar to those of radical Islam, despite often being oblivious to the presence of such overt Islamic radicalism. In particular, both share an opposition to Western governments in what is conceptualised as anti-government, anti-Illuminati ideologies with a strong mistrust of government and police. Governments and police are viewed by protesters as abusing power over the common people and having an alternate hidden agenda to control the fate of mankind. That is not to say that given individuals condone violence; however, they do see a need to take a stand against a greater power.

While parallels between radical Islam and protesters for the most part end with these two simple characteristics, there is clear evidence of protesters who support more radical measures including the use of violence. Forms of what is perceived as acceptable violence ranges from the subtle, such as forcing oneself past barricades right up to an affinity for the use of explosives. Given this radical element exists, albeit as a very small minority on protest sites, makes social media a potentially rewarding place for terrorists to find recruits into global jihad.

While not necessarily sharing an affinity for Islam, radical protestors nonetheless share a passion for action coupled with a rather fluid and malleable moral code that makes violence for the purpose of resistance acceptable… To read more subscribe to the magazine today!


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