Categories: Rise to Peace blog

The Continued Impact of Technology on Terrorism

Technology has greatly evolved in the past decades to the point that it is fair to speak of a technological revolution. Mobile phones, personal computers, and the Internet are commonplace in everyday life. More specifically, the evolution of information and communication technology has radically changed not only the way people communicate, but also ways of thinking and understanding complex matters.

Notwithstanding the recognized benefits of new technologies, there are concerns regarding their dual use. Recent events demonstrate that technological developments have been misused by non-state actors, such as terrorist groups. In fact, many terrorist organizations have been quick to exploit rapid technological advances to aid in the manufacture of weapons, ammunition and explosives. The use of military technology by such groups is one of the most severe threats currently faced worldwide.

However, developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector are even more alarming. Indeed, the use of digital and Internet platforms and their possible misuse by terrorists requires significant attention in any discussion focused on the topic. Social media platforms, Internet forums and online messaging applications have undoubtedly become terrorist propaganda mechanisms.

The use of information and communication technologies as tools for radicalization and recruitment is now common. Many terrorist organizations have managed to build a vast, sophisticated network of supporters from all over the world. Moreover, such technologies provide a major source of inspiration for lone actor terrorists who either have attempted or successfully carried out attacks after watching live-streamed attacks or speeches by leading members of terrorist groups inciting people to commit violence.

Planning an attack is now much easier as there are websites that provide all the necessary information about means and methods. These sites are easily accessed by the public thus permitting would-be terrorists to download instructions, such as those related to bomb-making, from the Internet.

In addition, digital technology has influenced the media. Changes in media technology have enabled terrorists to easily disseminate their message to wider audiences. Violence may instill fear, but live images attract the attention needed to cause widespread reaction, influence public opinion and mobilize moderates around the world. For years now, terrorists avail themselves of the ability to broadcast live on television.

Real-time TV coverage of an attack helps terrorist organizations to achieve their objectives: promotion of their cause to the widest possible audience, incite fear in the intended target audience and recruitment of new members. In some cases, the over-coverage of such events may unwittingly exacerbate the problem, instead of simply providing information to the public. It is therefore important that journalists avoid the further incitement of already present public fear and the over-emphasis of the motives behind an attack while reporting on terrorism.

In their attempt to prevent terrorists from exploiting digital platforms, leading tech companies cooperate with law enforcement for counter-terrorism purposes. In this sense, working closely with counter terrorism officers and security experts, social media companies improved their ‘takedown’ policies, weeding out an enormous number of accounts with the aim to reduce or even eliminate terrorists’ presence on technology platforms.

Furthermore, law enforcement authorities have also intensified monitoring of the contents disseminated online in order to detect and remove terrorist propaganda. In fact, a new technology able to automatically detect terrorist content on any online platforms and stop it before it ever reaches the internet has recently been developed.

To sum up, while technology continues to evolve rapidly, technology and media companies should work together with the competent authorities to combat terrorism and to prevent terrorist groups from recruiting new members. Although the public has the right to be informed on matters of public concern, media professionals should be particularly vigilant when it comes to the coverage of terrorism issues. They should aim at keeping the public informed without offering terrorists the publicity they seek.

In addition, as long as terrorists exploit new technological developments and online technologies, counter-terrorism authorities must detect and delete any online material that promotes terrorism or encourages violence. It is therefore essential that everyone collaborate in order to address this global challenge.

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