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How Terrorists Use Social Media to Spread Their Message

Terrorists and those fighting terrorism are starting to form ranks on a new frontier – the Internet, and particularly social media. According to the National Journal, social media allows terror groups to recruit new members, conduct their business in relative secrecy and spread their message around the world. How should the authorities try to counter this? Gabriel Weimann, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and professor at Haifa University in Israel, told the National Journal that terror groups are already using free Internet tools to coordinate and plan attacks. “Try to think like a terrorist for a second. Would you like to get — free-of-charge — satellite services? Of course, you would. Now think about Google Earth,” Weimann said. Google Earth was used in 2008 by terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba as they planned an attack on a hotel in Mumbai, India where over 150 people were killed. The number of sites that terrorists have been using is extensive: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Flickr. And these services are being used to raise funds, recruit and train new members, according to Weimann. Because the Internet can provide an anonymous screen behind which to operate, it makes perfect sense that terrorists would use these services. A bigger problem, according to Weimann is that terrorist groups are much better at pushing their message than security forces are. “If we leave the stage open only to their narratives, we may lose the battle. But if we can find that we can use the same platforms… with alternative messages, that might be a different type of war.” In that light, the @CIA Twitter account, and other social accounts, could become more important. If the CIA is interested in leading the conversation, it needs to be able to counter terror group narratives. The team behind the @CIA account isn’t likely to be hunting down terrorists themselves; their job is to give the public a positive spin on the work they do. The problem for governments and authorities is that terrorists have already been using social networks for years — and they know what they’re doing.

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