The world has been evolving each day, and by that, society is quickly adapting and changing its means of communication. Not so long ago, people would send letters to get in contact with friends and family that lived in other cities or states but now, talking to loved ones is easier, as staying in touch through social media is a reality. Although the use of these platforms improved many things in the modern world, they have also been used for bad purposes such as digital extremism.
In this sense, social media platforms have been essential in recruiting new members for radical and extremist groups. At the beginning of digital extremism, the primary source for jihad propaganda was found in terrorist websites with mostly Arabic content with little information available in English. However, extremists started to use more interactive and western forms of social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These platforms are specially utilized due to the anonymity they provide for the user, which for terrorists is the main priority, because of the greater protection they can get from law enforcement personnel.
An example of the use of social media for online radicalization is Facebook, the largest social media site in the world. On Facebook people can create secret groups and add whoever they want to them, which can be used as a valuable tool to attract like-minded radicals to a cause. Also, the use of violent images can attract people’s curiosity toward propaganda. In addition to that, links in more moderate and sympathizer pages can direct the user to more hard-line propaganda pages that contain more information on extremism, such as data on jihad or white supremacist extremism with details on how the reader can become a member or prepare to conduct an attack.
With the benefits that the use of social media generates for extremist recruiters, it is easy to acknowledge that research indicates that 90 percent of terrorist activity on the internet takes place using some type of social networking tool. The easiness that using the online spread of terrorism creates is deeply connected to the simpleness of uploading videos from smartphones or computers because radicals can actively do it wherever and whenever they want to and with the use of VPN, making it difficult to track their activity. Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that the shift towards social media forums does not make jihad websites obsolete, because links provided in social media forums are usually redirected to these traditional sites, where important propaganda or practical information is available.
In essence, the diversification of social media, the growth of closed social media platforms, and the proliferation of anonymity among extremist propaganda pose new challenges to law enforcement agencies and intelligence services that seek to track and limit the activities of extremists that make the use of digital platforms. To contain the recruitment of young people, for example, the school plays an important role in addressing the issue, by talking to students and making sure that kids, teenagers, and young adults understand the danger of accessing certain links and talking to strangers online. Education is key to preventing this type of extremism to keep occurring and tackling the problem at its core, in the recruitment of new members.
Luiza Fernandes, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow.