Social Media and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism

Image result for charlottesville va unite the right

Far-right protestors at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 2017. Image credit: Anthony Crider.

In the United States, many would argue that one of the greatest threats to national security is terrorism, but its portrayal in media and politics has convinced most Americans that the threat only comes in the form of Islamic extremism. However, the threat of terrorism is diversifying. The number of domestic terrorists in the U.S. exhibiting ideological tendencies associated with right-wing extremism is increasing. Most recently, Robert Bowers killed eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. He faces 29 criminal charges and potentially the death penalty. Some have profiled the incident as the largest attack on the Jewish Community in the history of the United States- but Mr. Bowers is not the only extremist to engage in such activity as of late. Cesar Sayoc Jr., who this autumn mailed explosive devices to  Hillary Clinton, George Soros, former president Barack Obama, and other prominent Democratic figures, was arrested in Florida and faces five federal criminal charges, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, making threats against former presidents, and assaulting federal officers.

Incidents such as these are increasingly common. In 2017, there were a total of 65 domestic terrorism incidents in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of these incidents involved individuals who exhibited anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-government, or fascist motivations. The remainder of the attacks were driven by left-wing ideologies and Islamic extremism. To give further context, the number of global terrorism incidents saw a decline of almost 40 percent, going from about 17,000 attacks in 2014 to about 11,000 attacks in 2017. Meanwhile, incidents in the United States increased nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. Even as the total number of global terrorism incidents has seen a great decline, the United States itself has seen a significant increase in domestic terrorism. Given the complex profiles of recent domestic terrorists, it may be difficult to pinpoint the reasoning behind why exactly they carry out the attacks. However, such analysis is critical, as it can help us learn to identify and thwart future attackers.

The rise in domestic terrorism, and specifically right-wing extremism, stems from multivarious motivations. Some attackers exhibited warning signs, such as suspicious social media activity; both Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc vented their frustrations on the Internet before carrying out acts of terrorism. For others, such as the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who killed 59 people, the motivation was unclear and has yet to be discovered. The cases of Bowers and Sayoc clearly prove that social media companies are not doing enough to monitor their users’ content and alert authorities to potentially dangerous individuals who may pose a threat to society. Platforms such as Gab, the social media website that Bowers used to post anti-Semitic videos and other content, has a user base of nearly 800,000 people, many of whom politically identify as members of the far-right (Molina, 2018). Many of these individuals have been removed from other social media platforms for posting hate speech and other forms of obscenity in the past. After the incident at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Gab went offline and suspended numerous user accounts. Gab’s service provider, GoDaddy, found that Gab had violated its terms of service by allowing the content that encouraged and promoted the use of violence, and subsequently gave Gab 24 hours to find new service provider to host the website.

The case of Gab reveals many reasons as to why Bowers was not identified as a threat or referred to law enforcement. First, his posts were not identified as “threatening” by platform regulators. Second, his posts were not taken down, despite their clear containment of threatening speech. Third, Gab did not inform or collaborate with law enforcement authorities to alert them that Bowers could be a threat to society. However, Gab is not the only platform guilty of this. Sayoc also had exhibited significant social media usage before carrying out the attempted mail bombings. He had used Twitter months before, sending threatening tweets to George Soros and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Clearly, these cases highlight the need for social media platforms to adapt their current regulation of user content, as well as their collaboration with U.S. law enforcement. There seems to be a pattern with many domestic terrorists in using social media as a platform to vent their grievances. By identifying these grievances in a timely manner, countless lives may be saved.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan: Case Study of an American Extremist

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, the young man radicalized in the suburbs of Chicago.

Born in the United States to first generation immigrants, Mohammed Hamzah Khan and his siblings were raised about 35 minutes west of Chicago in the middle class suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois. Considering he was a student at Benedictine University, a well-known Roman Catholic university, it can be understood why it was such a surprise when Khan was arrested by federal authorities at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Khan was detained with his brother (16) and sister (17) at the airport, where they intended to fly to Vienna before taking a bus to Turkey where they would meet with an IS operative who would smuggle them into Syria to join the caliphate. Mohammed was seen by authorities as the influence over his younger (and still juvenile, in the U.S. criminal justice system) siblings. Accordingly, his siblings were released to their parents without charges- but Mohammed remained.

Zarine Khan, Mohammed’s mother, stated that he and his sister were radicalized and preyed upon by IS recruiters on various social media accounts. In preparation for his travel to the caliphate, Khan got a job at a local store and raised sufficient travel funds for both himself and his siblings. It should be noted that Khan bought round trip tickets for the trip in an effort to mask their plans to travel to the caliphate- belying that there was likely some coaching in operational security by an IS operative online. Khan’s lawyer stated that Khan desired to join something bigger than himself, longing for a higher purpose. Khan’s lawyer made a strong argument against a long prison sentence, referencing the U.S. prison system and its record of further radicalizing individuals.

After years of court proceedings, Khan was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, including time already served. Upon his release from prison, he enrolled in the College of DuPage, earning a 4.0 GPA and academic honors- though he remained subject to routine and random searches of his living quarters and electronic devices for at least 20 years after release. In the spring of 2018, Khan was found to have accessed multiple prohibited social media networks and- in clear violation of his parole. The judge tasked with overseeing Khan’s case stated that Khan had demonstrated major steps of rehabilitation, exemplified by his schooling successes, and suggested that the violations were due to a lack of maturity. However, on the day that federal authorities searched his room and discovered his parole violations, they also uncovered an IS flag and documents in Arabic under his bed- the translation of which remains unclear.

In light of this, it is understandable to wonder what could have driven an American citizen to such radicalization. Khan is the child of immigrants, making it possible he felt marginalized as a result. Additionally, Khan is a Muslim of Indian descent- a community which does not necessarily have a large population in the Chicago area, potentially deepening Khan’s marginalization even among the Chicago Muslim community. It is possible that these factors contributed to Khan’s recruitment and radicalization. However, Khan’s schooling also proved that he has above average intelligence and can function without issue in western society.

Notably, Khan had no criminal history prior to his arrest for attempting to provide material support to the IS. There is little information available about Khan’s time in prison, but it is critical to question whether further radicalization occurred during his time in custody. Khan’s attorney mentioned that it could potentially be more dangerous for Khan to have a lengthy prison sentence, due to the extremist ideologies often fostered in prison culture. Within prisons, those prisoners who are radicalized are typically radicalized by other inmates and not by outside motivators. Since Khan was already radicalized, he would have been susceptible to other inmates’ radical influence as well.

Discussion of reform in the United States prison system is beyond the scope of this particular research or case study; however, one reform policy could clearly limit radicalization in this case and others. To counter radicalization within prisons, personnel working in corrections must be diversified. This is particularly true when discussing radicalization amongst the Muslim prison population. The Salafist ideology suggests that the West is at war with Islam, and having a mostly Christian, Caucasian prison staff could increase the “us versus them” mindset amongst prisoners- making more prisoners susceptible to radicalization. Implementing hiring procedures and protocols to ensure that staff more accurately mirror the demographics represented in the prison population at each particular facility could help reduce some types of radicalization. This policy implementation would take a significant amount of time, but could be impactful in decades to come.

Ultimately, Mohammed’s case is an unusual one, but it is not entirely isolated. With the rise of IS recruiting online and through increasingly global networks, the United States must prepare for more cases like Mohammed’s- and implementing prison reform could be a key first step.

Weapons for Sale: How the U.S. Indirectly Supplies Terrorists and Organized Crime

While people many are aware that the United States supports partner forces across the Middle East, fewer realize the U.S. sells such partners billions of dollars in weapons. 

Tracing such support is a challenge. For instance, old, Soviet-style weapons are supplied through Eastern Europe intermediaries. So despite what might be good intentions, the organization Conflict Armament Research suggests as much as 90% of ISIL’s weapons are traceable to US sources. How and why this occurs is the focus of a probe on American gun supply. 

At Iraqi military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, weapons inspector Damien Spleeters (left) and his coworker, Haider al-Hakim, look through crates of ISIS ammunition. ANDREA DICENZO

It is not just the U.S. but also Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia who employ such tactics.

Soviet-style weapons are easy to obtain and are familiar to, and highly sought-after by, Syrian fighters. Such weapons are not easily traceable, providing a separation between the U.S. and eventual recipients. One would that the government tightly regulates such arms sales. In fact, supply chains are complex, and procurement is complicated.

In the end, dealers move such weapons with insufficient oversight. Corruption and the use of private contractors further dilute regulatory stringency. And it is not just the U.S. Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia employ such tactics. With dealings of this kind, it is inevitable that at least some weapons end up in hands other than those intended by the seller.

Nowhere has this been clearer than in Syria. There, as well as in spillover affecting its neighbors, the death toll continues to rise. Governments, private contractors, and INGOs must cooperate to ensure the legitimate and accurate movement of arms.

Shady deals and ever-shifting alliances must move the U.S. to reconsider its weapons export policies.

There is mounting evidence that the United States has even indirectly supplied weapons to groups like ISIL. Indirectly, the U.S. is enlarging the very conflicts it seeks to diminish. The U.S. was even recently cited as having supplied weapons used by gangs in Venezuela. Such evidence continues to mount. Yet, there has been little movement by the U.S. to increase the integrity and oversight of its arms sales.

Shady deals and ever-shifting alliances must move the U.S. to reconsider its arms export policies. If the U.S. wants to bring peace to this, or any region, it must improve arms sale transparency and oversight. Otherwise, guns will continue to end up in the hands of organized criminals, drug cartels, and terrorists.

US-Taliban Peace Talks: An Opportunity For Peace?

The United States is planning to lead direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

The United States plans to lead peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported in recent weeks U.S. delegates have visited Kabul and Pakistan to discuss the aforementioned US-Taliban talks.

Last week, Secretary Pompeo promised to support the Afghan government in peace negotiations. Pompeo reiterated the strategy announced last year by President Donald Trump which focuses on additional U.S. troops in the country as a tool to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leadership. “The strategy sends a clear message to the Taliban that they cannot wait us out,” Pompeo said.

The Taliban and Afghan security forces greet each other during the cease-fire in Kabul. Photo by Ahmad Mohibi, June 16, 2018

Tuesday, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen John. Nicholson said the U.S. is not replacing the Afghan government in the peace talks. “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said.

But during his trip to Kandahar, he said, “Our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces.  We hope this will help move the peace process forward.”

The State Department added that “any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

The Taliban cheered the prospect of direct U.S. talks. They do not want to negotiate with Afghan leadership, which see as illegitimate and incapable of offering them valuable concessions. Sohail Shahin, spokesman from the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Aljazeera, “This is what we wanted, and what were waiting for – to sit with the U.S. directly and discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops.”

Political leaders and Afghans believe peace is possible if Afghans lead the way. Only the Afghans can win this war. Neither U.S. troops nor U.S.-Taliban peace talks will pacify Afghanistan.

In fact, U.S. involvement may be exacerbating fundamental tensions. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai stated recently in an interview with Ahmad Mohibi, “The Taliban want to negotiate with the U.S. because the Afghan National Unity Government is weak. The Taliban sees themselves as stronger than the Afghan government. They believe the U.S. is the power-holder in this dynamic.” Karzai advocates an Afghan peace process led and implemented by Afghans. “Peace is possible in Afghanistan if it’s a pure process in which Afghans are involved in every aspect of talks,” Karzai said

Taliban supporter biking around the city of Kabul during the ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. June 17, 2018 Photo by Ahmad Mohibi

Attempts at Afghan peace talks date back to 2006 – a year of deadly terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that saw in excess of 4,000 people dead, including 170 foreigners. This was a dramatic uptick in suicide bombings and it came in the wake of the War on Terror, which began in 2001. But that same year, 2006, at a Shia religious gathering, Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to participate in peace talks. Karzai said, “While we are fighting for our honor, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with an enemy who is shedding our blood and bent our annihilation.”

Since then, Afghan and American governments, the international community, NATO, and Afghanistan’s neighbors have supported peace talks. Yet, despite the deployment of 15,000 U.S. troops and 17 years of U.S. and international support, the Taliban has gained territory, suicide bombings surge, and more terror groups are coalescing. And the Taliban are unwilling to negotiate with the Afghan government.

However, that the role of the United States in the peace process remains necessary to ensure other state actors, such as Pakistan, which continues to provide material support to the Taliban, push them to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. Together peace can be achieved, but only through a recognition of the Afghan lead in these efforts.

There is still a chance for peace. Afghans are hardworking people with the courage to build their homeland.  Americans are thoughtful and passionate people that are willing to help Afghans win the peace. 

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is founder and president of Rise to Peace and a national security expert. Ahmad Mohibi is a published writer as well as a George Washington University and George Mason University Alumni. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

What Makes a Terrorist Attack Notable: Determinants of U.S. Media Coverage


With the sheer saturation of terrorist attacks occurring each week, US news outlets are forced to make decisions regarding what gets published. Characteristics of terrorist attacks such as casualty toll, perpetrator, or weapon type often determine newsworthiness and thus which attacks get covered. While past research has focused on coverage of domestic terrorist attacks within the United States, this paper examines determinants of US major media coverage of terrorist attacks across the globe. Using data collected over the past year, we examine the distribution of characteristics of large-scale terrorist attacks that did and did not garner coverage by major US news outlets.


Media coverage of terrorism strongly influences how the news-consuming public interprets both terrorist attacks and the political and cultural impact that terrorist attacks have on society. Coverage of terrorist events occurring in the United States between October 2001 and January 2010 reveals a media paradigm “in which fear of international terrorism is dominant, particularly as Muslims/Arabs/Islam working together in organized terrorist cells against a ‘Christian America,’ while domestic terrorism is cast as a minor threat that occurs in isolated incidents by troubled individuals” (Powell 2011) [1]. Güven (2018) writes that the media has a powerful ability to shape dialogue surrounding terrorism [2]. This dominant paradigm causes individual terrorists to be linked by government and media to overarching ideologies, which results in “intensified anti-terrorism legislation, snares of rumors, and disinformation in the name of public debate.” Since media coverage of terrorism shapes public sentiment and government policy, understanding the driving factors behind this coverage is vital to the study of the political, cultural, and economic realities of terrorism.

Prior research has demonstrated that a number of attack characteristics influence media coverage of terrorism. Chermak and Gruenewald (2006) examine terrorist incidents occurring in the United States pre-9/11 and find that a number of characteristics including region, seriousness, target type, and tactics influence New York Times coverage [3]. Attacks taking place in the northeast are covered more often than those taking place in other regions of the country, and attacks causing at least one death are almost fully covered while those without death tolls are covered around half the time. They also find attacks on civilian or airline targets result in more coverage than attacks on government or NGO targets. The same holds for attacks using firearms and hijackings which are covered significantly more often than other types of attacks. Kearns et al. (2017) find that post-9/11, Muslim perpetrators, the arrest of the perpetrator, law enforcement or government targets, and casualty rates all increase media coverage of terror attacks [4]. Media coverage decreases when the perpetrators are unknown or attacks target out-groups such as Muslims or other minorities. However, saturation of coverage also increases the threshold of an attack’s newsworthiness necessary for it to garner attention. Well before 9/11, Weiman and Brosius (1991) note that as terror coverage becomes more frequent and thus normalized, the number of victims for an attack to be covered increases as well [5]. As terrorist attacks become routine, that which was once newsworthy to many media outlets, is no longer worth mentioning.

Media coverage of terrorism resonates beyond the viewers it intends to attract with far-reaching implications. Because terrorist attacks are frequently motivated by the desire to bring attention to the perpetrators’ cause, increased media coverage of terrorist attacks often causes more attacks. This effect holds across multiple forms of media. Jetter (2017a) finds that one article on a terrorist attack results in approximately 1.4 future attacks in the same country over the next week, resulting on average in three additional casualties [6]. Jetter (2017b) also finds that one minute of Al-Qaeda coverage on a major news network results in one attack in the next week, resulting in 4.9 additional casualties on average [7]. However, Asal and Hoffman (2016) find a dampening effect of media coverage on cross-border terror. They find that “the more attention a country gets from international media sources, the less likely terrorist organizations operating within that state are to launch attacks outside their national borders,” and that terrorists active in states that receive little media coverage launch international and cross-border attacks requisite to promulgate their beliefs. Therefore, media coverage of terrorism can impact the frequency, location, and perpetrators of terrorist attacks, with a corresponding impact on lives.

While prior research has focused largely on domestic attacks in the United States, this work is oriented towards global attacks significant in their casualty tolls. Characteristics that impact media coverage of terrorist attacks are analyzed to determine how major US media outlets select which attacks to cover when their viewing audience may be unfamiliar with the context, perpetrators, or country in which the attack took place. These characteristics include casualty level, target type, weapon type, country, and terrorist group. We hypothesize that attacks with characteristics more engaging to the American public are more likely to be covered by American media. Such factors include higher casualty rates, attacks in active U.S. military deployment areas, attacks by groups well-known to Americans, and attacks with more notorious groups. We test our hypothesis by comparing the distribution of attack characteristics across attacks that did and did not receive major U.S. media coverage.

Data methodology

All records were pulled from the Rise To Peace Active Intelligence Database, running from June 7, 2017, to June 7, 2018. Using all attacks would be unrealistic: news saturation of terrorist attacks means only attacks that are notable would be expected to receive news coverage. To mitigate this, we pull all attacks where total casualty count, a sum of killed and injured victims, is greater than or equal to 21. This number is chosen because it represents the 90th percentile and higher of the first 1,000 attacks entered into the Active Intelligence Database, which generates a sensible coverage expectation. Next, we search for articles from U.S. news sources representing the attention of the U.S. media to these attacks. For our purposes, we use sources from the top five most-used U.S. news sites: CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today. Information on attacks is sought using keyword configuration “[Source] [Month] [Day] [Year] attack.” If those searches did not yield a hit on an article referencing the attack in question, the attack was coded as ‘Undercovered’. If at least one search returned a hit on an article referencing the attack in question, the attack was coded as ‘Covered’. This yields sets of 108 ‘Covered’ attacks and 68 ‘Undercovered’ attacks. Next, we create distributions of the data-sets comparing the prevalence of characteristics within each data-set. We calculate for five characteristics: casualty level, target type, weapon type, country, and terrorist group. The results are visualized below.


For the graphical analysis alone, we do not show characteristics whose representation among the 2 data-sets combined is less than 10. This is done to prevent conclusions on the basis of low data. Three of the five comparisons, therefore, suffered graphical exclusions of data: country, weapon type, and terrorist group. No data is excluded from the analyses of target type, casualty level. Results are shown below.

Target type

Attacks on civilian targets made up a larger portion of the undercovered attacks than the covered attacks, while security and political targets made up larger portions of the covered attacks than undercovered attacks [Figure 1].

Attacks on civilian targets comprised the largest portion of both data-sets, suggesting that civilian targets suffer from lower levels of notability due to their high frequency. This may explain the more equitable distribution of target types across covered attacks, which tend to distribute more coverage across rarer types of attacks.

Weapon type

Attacks carried out using suicide bombs and firearms were greater represented in the covered attacks data-set than were attacks utilizing IEDs or grenades, which made up a larger portion of the Undercovered attacks [Figure 2].

Exclusions from the analysis of weapon type: Misc, Unknown, Mortar, Rocket

High-casualty attacks using firearms tend to be rare, large-scale assaults on targets such as security installations or entire towns, increasing newsworthiness. Suicide bomb attacks tend to inflict larger casualty rates than other explosive-based attacks such as grenades or IEDs, and their occupation of the American psyche post-9/11 is a driving force behind greater coverage. Grenade and IED attacks, while similar in execution, tend not to capture the attention of the American public in the same way as the stereotypical Muslim suicide bomber.

Terrorist group

Attacks by Al-Shabaab, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) and the Taliban made up a larger portion of covered attacks than undercovered attacks, while attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and attacks by unknown actors were greater represented in undercovered attacks than covered attacks [Figure 3].

Exclusions from the analysis of terrorist group: Abu Sayyaf, AQIM, Bacham Militia, FARC, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, [HPG,PKK], [ISIS,Jamaat ur Ahrar], Lashkar-e-Taiba, PYD, [Taliban,ISKP], TTP

The high rate of coverage of Taliban and ISKP attacks are consistent with the expectation that attacks on active U.S. military deployment areas would receive more coverage by virtue of of American attention to the area. U.S. drone strikes and special operations deployments to Somalia, as well as past U.N. commitments to the area, are similarly likely to drive attention towards Al-Shabaab’s actions in Somalia. Meanwhile, lack of U.S. engagement in Nigeria has likely reduced American attention towards Boko Haram. The finding regarding ISIS is contrary to expectations: considering high historical U.S. attention toward Iraq, as well as media sensationalization of brutal ISIS tactics and success, one would expect them to receive higher coverage levels. Finally, attacks committed by unknown actors are difficult to interpret given these attacks heavy distributions across regions.

Casualty Rate

As casualty tolls increase, attacks are greater represented in covered attacks than undercovered attacks. Only attacks causing 21-40 casualties comprise a greater portion of undercovered attacks than covered attacks [Figure 4].

This result is consistent with the expectations set on coverage contingent on the notability of attacks. The redistribution of media coverage from low to high-casualty attacks demonstrates a higher premium for media coverage placed on high-casualty attacks.


Finally, attacks in Afghanistan and Somalia make up a significantly greater portion of covered attacks than undercovered attacks, while those taking place in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria are greater represented in undercovered attacks [Figure 5].

Exclusions from the analysis of country: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Mali, Niger, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, USA, Yemen

Countries with higher representation in the covered attacks data-set tend to be those with significant US military involvement and public attention in recent years. US military presence in Afghanistan and its drone and air strikes in Somalia, coupled with troop deployment drives attack coverage in those countries. Reduced military involvement in Nigeria and Pakistan means attacks in those countries garner less coverage. However, the results in Iraq and Syria run contrary to the expectation that attacks in countries with larger US involvement tend to see increased media coverage. Attacks in Iraq and Syria were significantly greater represented in the undercovered attacks dataset.


The results provide some support for our hypothesized proxies for notability of terrorist attacks. Attacks with higher casualty levels, suicide bombers, political or security targets, and in some areas that have active U.S. military deployment (Afghanistan and Somalia) made up higher portions of the covered attacks data than the uncovered attacks data, suggesting they receive disproportionate attention in the U.S. media. Meanwhile, attacks using commonplace tactics like grenades and IEDs, in areas without significant U.S. military presence (Nigeria and Pakistan) and attacks against civilian targets were more represented in the undercovered data.

The notable outliers are intertwined: attacks in Iraq and Syria, as well as attacks committed by ISIS, were more represented in the undercovered data than in the covered data, suggesting they received disproportionately low coverage. This contradicts our expectations for notability given that ISIS has not only launched attacks on the United States in the past, but the U.S. has active military deployments in the region. We suggest two possible explanations for this discrepancy. First, the massive volume of attacks by ISIS has introduced a saturation level to media markets dampening coverage of ISIS in favor of other groups. The pure volume of violence, even at high levels, removes the notability from the attacks and reduces coverage of the attacks. However, this explanation is likely inconsistent with the finding that attacks in Afghanistan, and even with the ISIS cell in Afghanistan, ISKP, are greater represented in the covered than the undercovered data. The U.S. also has active U.S. military deployments there, but saturation does not appear to have dampened the proportion of coverage. The second possible explanation is the distinction in the data between territorial warfare and terrorism. The Rise To Peace Active Intelligence Database distinguishes between acts of terrorism and attempts at territorial control, only including the former. However, ISIS engages in both forms of warfare, and it, therefore, may receive higher proportions of coverage for territorial warfare and therefore still receive high media attention. This apparent discrepancy, and its implications for U.S. media coverage of foreign violence in Iraq and Syria is deserving of further research.


[1] Powell, Kimberly A. “Framing Islam: An Analysis of US Media Coverage of Terrorism Since 9/11.” Communication Studies 62, no. 1 (2011): 90-112.

[2] Güven, Fikret. “Mass Media’s Role in Conflicts: An Analysis of the Western Media’s Portrayal of Terrorism since September 11.” International Journal of Social Science 66, Spring II (2018): 183-196.

[3] Chermak, Steven M., and Jeffrey Gruenewald. “The Media’s Coverage of Domestic Terrorism.” Justice Quarterly 23, no. 4 (2006): 428-461.

[4] Kearns, Erin, Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux. “Why do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?.” (2018).

[5] Weimann, Gabriel, and Hans-Bernd Brosius. “The Newsworthiness of International Terrorism.” Communication Research 18, no. 3 (1991): 333-354.

[6] Jetter, Michael. “The Effect of Media Attention on Terrorism.” Journal of Public Economics 153 (2017): 32-48.

[7] Jetter, Michael. “Terrorism and the Media: The Effect of US Television Coverage on Al-Qaeda Attacks.” (2017).

[8] Asal, Victor, and Aaron M. Hoffman. “Media effects: Do Terrorist Organizations Launch Foreign Attacks in Response to Levels of Press Freedom or Press Attention?.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 33, no. 4 (2016): 381-399.