According to a new report by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Gabriel Weimann, terrorists are using social media for the same reasons most us do — quick, easy, anonymous communication — and these new tactics are making it difficult for counterterrorism officials to stop attacks.
In his report, titled "New Terrorism and New Media" and released to the public today, Weimann explains that "terrorists' most important purposes online are propaganda, radicalization, and recruitment." Social media, it turns out, is a really good way for them to do that:
Terrorists have good reasons to use social media. First, these channels are by far the most popular with their intended audience, which allows terrorist organizations to be part of the mainstream. Second, social media channels are user-friendly, reliable, and free. Finally, social networking allows terrorists to reach out to their target audiences and virtually “knock on their doors” — in contrast to older models of websites in which terrorists had to wait for visitors to come to them.
According to Weimann, who has been studying the online behavior of terrorists for years, the tendency for terrorists to organize online is not new, but it is increasing rapidly. Weimann says that in 1988, a dozen terrorist websites existed. Now, that figure has ballooned to nearly 10,000, not including their social media presence.
Weimann explains that terrorists are using most of the major social media platforms to recruit militant Islamists. In his report, he quotes a jihadi online web forum as explaining that:
Facebook is a great idea, and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them!... if you have a group of 5,000 people, with the press of a button you [can] send them a standardized message.
The report notes that YouTube "has become a significant platform for jihadist groups and supporters," but that "Twitter has recently emerged terrorists' favorite Internet service, even more popular than self-designed websites or Facebook, to disseminate propaganda and enable internal communication." And we thought Twitter was dead.