The twenty-first century has been characterized by rapid changes in communication and dissemination of information. The invention of the digital media was a landmark that came with unmatched benefits, especially in the generation and proliferation of information. Nevertheless, a substantial quantity of the literature reveals that there are emerging issues with regard to the consumption of digital media content. Researchers point out ethical, social, legal, and global issues that have been associated with digital media content. The purpose of this paper is to provide an elaborate report on the use of digital media to recruit and promote the global issue of terrorism that seems to reinvent itself even in the face of technological revolution.
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Vulnerability of Digital Media
Today, the internet has become a commonplace for families and individuals as societies have accepted and embraced its diverse applications. It has provided a virtual arena whereby people share ideas freely whilst accessing any type of information on demand. It allows users to share content instantly with an infinite size of the audience. Some researchers such as Janbek and Williams (2014) attest that the digital media, particularly the internet, has become increasingly associated with isolation while others link it to sociability. The term digital media encompasses a communication activity and/or content that takes place over the World Wide Web. The dynamic information revolution was accelerated by the emergence of the internet in 1970s before its usage increased significantly in the 1990s (Janbek & Williams, 2014).
To date, the internet has become a part of every society ranging from school and business settings to individual usage as it continues to grow, especially among the youths. The Internet is easy to access as it has little or no restriction, censorship, and/or government control. In addition, the Internet is characterized by the anonymity of communication and fast flow of information (Janbek & Williams, 2014). The affordability of has resulted in the development of all manner of customized web pages. The Internet also allows for the incorporation of different forms of multimedia including audio, video, graphics, and combination of different texts. Furthermore, it allows users to retrieve content through either free or affordable download including videos, audio, and other forms of online information.
While the Internet has been paramount to e-transformation in areas such as e-commerce, e-healthcare, online communication, and military applications among other usages, it has raised social, legal, and ethical concern over the past one decade. This state of affairs has posed a significant threat to humanity (Janbek & Williams, 2014). However, the nature of the Internet usage together with the aforementioned features has been tapped by criminal minds to attack human lives. This state of play has significantly contributed to the rise of terrorism and radicalization in the contemporary world, which are the greatest global challenges.
Cybercrime is a common debate among governments with criminals using the free-to-access digital media avenues to plan, survey, coordinate, and facilitate criminal acts (Janbek & Williams, 2014). As this paper reveals later in the discussion, terrorists use the internet in a variety of ways including facilitation of tradecraft, recruitment, training, and computer network attacks, which threaten human lives. In fact, the advantages of the Internet have been noticed by terrorist organizations and ideologists including nationalists, separatists, racists, anarchists, rebels, extremists, and radicals among others.
Due to the ease of access to the internet, terrorist groups seized the opportunity in the past decade as it offered them the capability to communicate, collaborate, and convince prospective recruits (Kenney, 2015). The findings of this research were based on the testing of numerous hypotheses. First, the Internet creates more opportunities for radicalization processes in that target groups can easily be lured. Second, it accelerates the radicalization process.
Third, the internet provides a virtual forum to radicalize individuals without necessarily establishing physical contacts. Additionally, digital platforms provide an echo-chamber where individuals can find viral support and sharing of their ideas between like-minded peers. Qualitative research on terrorism activities online has revealed that some Google search keywords including ‘how to make a bomb’, ‘suicide missions’, beheading videos, and training camps among others have become prevalent among the youths. For instance, the results of the Google search concerning ‘how to make a bomb’ brought about 1,837,000 entries in the UK (Source: RAND Europe own observations).
According to Kenney (2015), the malignant potential of the digital media, especially the Internet, poses a security threat to the national governments (Kenney, 2015). In this regard, governments have become increasingly aware of the role of the Internet in extremism as revealed in modern terrorism. The internet has been used extensively by radicalization agents to reach people from divergent societies and strongly promoting their radical views. Terrorist groups’ utilization of the internet centers on reaching potential recruits, sympathizers, coordination of attacks, claiming responsibility for attacks already carried out, and passing rhetoric ideologies targeting governments or enemies.
Notable Cases of Terrorism involving Use of the Internet
Since September 11, extremists have continued to use the internet in numerous ways including convincing people online to buy their radical ideologies. Terrorist organizations rely on the internet for the collection of information regarding justifications for their actions. They search for knowledge on other terror gangs in a bid to gain more insight into self-organization. The digital media is an ideal communication medium that has existed before the newly formed terror gangs (Kenney, 2015). This way, it acts as a source of crucial information for them as they try to find justifications for their weird actions.
Prospective extremists use the digital media to frequent extremist forums through websites and social media avenues that provide a significant amount of information about the doctrines, missions, and achievements of the terrorist organizations. Such online forums provide potential recruits with convincing information about themselves. Terrorist organizations rely on digital media to share ideologies concerning how their worldviews. The common information from these online avenues revolves around their enemies by providing the strongly presented justifications for their malicious activities of vengeance against them. In fact, the websites provide updates on successful attacks against their enemies, with conspicuous and explicit information in the form of photos and videos.
The uninterrupted and uncontrolled aspect of digital media is used by terrorists to share explicitly content in a bid to lure potential recruits and like-minded individuals. In fact, researchers reveal that sites run by terrorist organizations appear entertaining as they feature interesting materials including videos and photography that the youth perceive as unique. Websites are well maintained and updated with new information to achieve the ultimate goals of the organization. It is worth noting that some websites operated by terror groups appear shortly after a major communication of vital information, then disappear.
They do so by changing the website addresses in their efforts to hide themselves from counter-terrorism agencies. The content remains unchanged in such websites despite the change of its web address. There have been presented and verified empirical evidence of terrorists spreading propaganda and coordinating attacks. Various terrorists such as British Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha used websites in London to lobby for financial support, contact online recruitment and plan on how to acquire and supply weaponry for the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Furthermore, they used the websites to share training materials for new recruits, with audio-visual multimedia materials available to demonstrate how to carry out suicide and homicide bombings. The source further revealed that some of the videos found on the websites featured deceased extremists who were marked as fallen heroes. Similarly, in December 2001, there were six websites propagating the jihad propaganda and footage highlighting processes of making bombs and lethal poisons in Sweden.
Another case that empirically proofs the role of the internet in promoting terrorism is the documentation involving a cleric and his follower communication via an email platform (Janbek & Williams, 2014). This case shows how the networking function of digital media can be used by extremists to engage like-minded individuals and leaders, whether religious or political, in discussions concerning the support and propagation of radical ideas. For instance, Major Nidak Malik utilized online publications to conduct the infamous American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Janbek & Williams, 2014).
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This case presents a modern terrorist in the face of the technological revolution. Malik used email messaging service to contact the jihadist for religious explanations about the role of jihad and how to justify his actions. His email exchanges with the cleric arguably encouraged Hassan’s ideas of radicalism. In 2009, Hassan managed to kill several U.S soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas as they planned to head to Afghanistan for the dreaded mission as he perceived it. The shooting resulted in more than thirteen deaths. An investigation that followed the shootings revealed conversations through email messaging that had taken place for several years.
The FBI revealed that Hassan was troubled by the war against Muslims in Afghanistan carried out by the American troops. Further investigations showed that the two people began contacting each other in 2001 (Janbek & Williams, 2014). Major Hassan used to spend more than fifteen hours a day online seeking advice regarding his ideologies that contributed to his confidence to attack the group of the American soldiers.
How Terrorists Use Internet
Terrorist organizations use the Internet in a variety of ways including psychological warfare, propagandizing and publicity, data mining, fundraising, recruitment and mobilization, networking of activities, planning and coordination, and sharing content (Janbek & Williams, 2014). An in-depth discussion of each of these uses follows to provide an insight into how digital media has been used to threaten the same humans who invented it.
According to Kenney (2015), terrorists use the internet to recruit and mobilize supporters as they woo them to get actively involved in the execution of terrorist activities. Websites are used to convey convincing information that is passed in attractive presentations in the form digital videos and audio formats for the potential recruits (Kenney, 2015). They conduct online surveys to identify willing recruits who appear to be interested in their ideologies. Moreover, the recruiters use more interactive forums such as live chat rooms and other internet technologies available in home computers and mobile handheld devices that support such capabilities. Most interestingly, terrorist organizations have systems to gather information regarding the internet users who browse their websites.
The online chat rooms target the youth, especially those who are faced with tough challenges such as unemployment after school. The use of electronic bulletins and user nets are highly utilized to search and identify the potential candidates. A recent research conducted by Janbek and Williams (2014) revealed the potential use of the internet to advertise themselves to the terrorist organizations. There have been cases of young computer engineering scholars and software developers who create and sell websites and vital links to terrorist groups (Janbek & Williams, 2014). For instance, Ziyad Khalil, a computer science major student at the Columbia College in Missouri became a Muslim activist in the campus whereby he reportedly developed internet links for the Hamas. Due to his continued internet presence and numerous activities online, he caught the attention of the Al Qaeda, who gave him a high profile position in the organization. He was put in charge of acquisition and supply of firearms for the terrorist organization.
The Internet has been known for hosting dozens of sites that terrorist use to retrieve information regarding the handling and use of chemicals and explosives, and assembling of bombs among other artillery handlings. Publications and handbooks with information on how make home-made bombs and other lethal weapons are available for free on the Internet. In addition, ‘The Mujahedeen Poisons Handbook’ by Abdel-Aziz that was published on the Hamas website provided detailed guidelines for preparing various homemade poisons, lethal gases, and other deadly material used by terrorists organizations (Janbek & Williams, 2014). The publications are clear examples that the Internet can be used to share information among existing and new terrorist organizations. The publications cover divergent topics regarding how to carry out successful terrorism ranging from weaponry handling, capabilities, and sources.
Planning and Coordination
Terrorist groups have increasingly shifted their mechanisms of coordinating attacks. They rely on the internet since there is little surveillance compared to the traditional telephone technology. For instance, the 9/11 United States attacks relied heavily on the Internet for coordination that resulted in the successful hitting of the targets (Kenney, 2015). The FBI reported having found websites operated by Abu Zubaydah, of the Al-Qaeda group who planned the September 11 attacks. Kenney (2015) reveals that the Hams use digital graphics whereby instructions are presented in the form of maps, photography, and technical details on the use of explosives disguised by means of steganography that entails hiding information inside graphics technology for the target recipients (Kenney, 2015). Other instances encompass conveying specific information in concealed simple codes that can only be comprehended by the intended target audience.
Data Mining and Spying
Terrorists use the vast digital library provided by the web to learn current developments of their enemies including the governments and their affiliates in different countries (Janbek & Williams, 2014). They monitor public events that they target to launch attacks on. Terrorist organizations use the internet to gather information on prospective targets such as transportation facilities, nuclear power plants, public buildings, airports, and ports (Kenney, 2015).
The Al-Qaeda used the digital media to collect intelligence on targets in the US and other countries, particularly economic nodes and modern software that enable them gauge the success of their attacks on the targets. Software includes those capable of hacking the government sites as they seek to gather enough and credible information about the enemy (Kenney, 2015).
For instance, Muslim hackers aimed to develop software capable of launching cyber-attacks including retrieving sensitive information such as code names and radio frequencies. Through the use of websites, terrorists provide instructional materials about cyber-attacks including the creation of viruses and system hacking technologies targeting enemies. Additionally, the digital media has been used by the terror groups to solicit funds through fundraising, donations, charities, nongovernmental organizations, and other financial institutions. For instance, the Sunni extremist group, Hizb al-Tahrir, has been shown to use digital media sites to lobby for financial support across the globe by asking sympathizers to encourage others to support Jihad.
This report presents ways in which the digital media, which was invented for the common good of humanity, has been used by terrorist organizations to harm the very humans who devised it. Common avenues include websites and social media platforms and software development that facilitate activities such as data mining, coordination of operations, networking and sharing information, recruitment, cyber-attacks (hacking systems), spying, and intelligence gathering as well as publicly claiming responsibility for major attacks as they mock the enemy.
Janbek, D., & Williams, V. (2014). The Role of the Internet Post-9/11 in Terrorism and Counterterrorism. Brown Journal of World Affairs, 20(2), 297-308. Web.
Kenney, M. (2015). Cyber-Terrorism in a Post-Stuxnet World. Orbis, 59(1), 111-128. Web.