The Power of Social Media in Terrorism

Image courtesy of AP/The Independent.

Society currently has a strong need for a new topic of discussion. Almost everyone has social media profiles that keep them up to date on current events going on around the world. Many members of society want to gain followers or notoriety and be one of these topics of discussion. Acts of terror are the perfect opportunity for people to gain notoriety. The recent shooting in New Zealand by white nationalist Brenton Tarratt which he live streamed on social media is a perfect example of the power of social media in the digital age and how it acts as a conduit for terrorists to spread their message.

There are estimated to be at least 2.8 billion users of social media worldwide. This number is expected to grow even more in the next few years as our world becomes more globalized. This is a huge audience for terrorists to spread their message to the rest of the world. The power of social media has given a voice to those who feel like they have been marginalized, it amplifies their voice so they can reach the masses. When these terrorists send out their message to the masses it has two jobs:  1) To instill fear in their opponents and 2) to recruit others to their cause with similar mindsets. This is the Islamic State’s modus operandi which has raised their threat from the confines of their region to a worldwide threat. This has inspired many other terror groups or lone wolves to adopt similar methods and mindsets. It is not just jihadists either who are using the media to spread to the masses. Right wing nationalists have also used this method and have even formed their own networks such as 4Chan and Fachosphere in America and France respectively, to communicate with those with similar ideologies.

Many terrorists now rely on shock value and the “theater of terror” which forces the media to write reports on various terror attacks and this is what the terrorists live for because it gives them the notoriety they were hoping for. Sharing or retweeting acts of terror it gives them exactly what they wanted, as seen in the aforementioned shooting in New Zealand. The shooter live streamed his malicious act and a couple hours later it was all over social media. One way to prevent the spread of violent extremist ideals is to not share these heinous acts and not give these terrorists the notoriety that they want. Conversations about terror attacks on social media creates fear and perpetuates rumors which causes hysteria. This is exactly what the terrorists feed off of. The problem is that society is beginning to become desensitized to such violent acts because they happen so often. However, Cliff Staten a political science professor believes that this desensitization can serve as a deterrent to terrorists. He stated, “One could argue that becoming less sensitive to these terrorist events will make it more difficult for groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda to achieve their goals.” The terrorists prey on fear and if they don’t find it, then they can’t achieve their goals.

Social media can also help raise awareness about different terror attacks, especially those that may not get the same attention as others. Terrorism is not something that can be resolved in a day, a number of measures need to be put in place to raise awareness to prevent these acts from happening. The rise of social has provided the tools necessary to make change in the world. This can happen through sharing counterterrorism efforts around the world or reporting terrorist propaganda that found on social media feeds. People have the means to rid the world of the violence of terrorism.

Cameron Cassar

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