A number of positive things have happened as a direct result of the popularity of social media in society. People have reconnected with family and friends. They have found new jobs and been able to show their talents to the world where, before, they would have gone unnoticed.
But, there is also a dark side of social media. In part I of this article, we discussed cyberbullying which has magnified the effect of bullying to epic proportions never seen before in our lifetime. Social media has also magnified the reach for cyber criminals, gang members, drug dealers and terrorist. They all use social media outlets to recruit new members. In the article we will focus on terrorism.
The terror group ISIS (or ISIL) has used YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media platforms to recruit and raise funds. Twitter, for one, has shut down thousands of ISIS accounts over the past year. Just like company’s do for themselves and the products they sell, terror organizations do the same with branding campaigns of their own, targeting young people to become soldiers, promotion propaganda and soliciting funding. In correlation with our article on bullying, many of the recruits ISIS finds through social media are loners who are disconnected, troubled or looking to find an identity for themselves.
A New York Times article entitled “ISIS and the Lonely American” talks about a young, 23-year-old baby sitter named Alex who converted to Islam after trying to learn more about the terror group online. It wasn’t hard to find and contact them. Alex was sent gifts, chocolate, Hallmark cards, books on Islam and even money. She had several conversations with an “ISIS fighter” via Twitter and then Skype. They preyed on her weaknesses. Alex dropped out of college and had a bout with drug addiction. Her grandmother referred to her as a “lost child.” She looked toward ISIS for direction. Luckily for Alex, her family intervened and the F.B.I. were contacted.
Others don’t have someone to intervene. As of July 2015, the F.B.I. has reported that over 200 Americans have attempted to join ISIS. There propaganda efforts on social media have been seen by over 200,000 viewers. ISIS is the predominant terror leader when it comes to PR. Yet, they are not the only terror organization using social media to its advantage. Groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Hamas and many other less known groups are using social media to spread messages of hate.
These groups post videos, tweets and status updates in many different languages. ISIS often posts videos showing graphic images of opposition soldiers they have killed or beheadings. They want to show how strong and superior they are over their enemies, often portraying them as weak and inferior. They have even disguised themselves as relief organizations in order to reach the opposition’s audience.
Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik , the terrorist responsible for killing 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif, used Facebook’s Private Messenger platform to communicate to friends in Pakistan pledging support of jihad.
The Boundaries of Privacy
So how do we control such conversations on social media when these platforms are supposed to be free and open to discuss all points-of-view? Tim Cook and Apple came under fire this week after refusing to break an encryption code to unlock Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s cell phone accounts. The FBI feels obtaining access to the information from the phones can lead them to bigger terror cells possibly. But, Cook had this to say in an interview with NPR, “if you have an open door in your software for the good guys, the bad guys get in there, too.” On the flipside, Twitter has shut down over 125, 000 accounts it claims were connected to ISIS. Twitter also noted that “it works with law-enforcement agencies when appropriate and partners with groups that work to counter extremist content online,” in a recent article in The Atlantic.
Facebook has also agreed to help the U.S. Government tackle social terrorism. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management told The Wall Street Journal on February 11th, ‘If it’s the leader of Boko Haram and he wants to post pictures of his two-year-old and some kittens, that would not be allowed.’
YouTube, on the other hand, is harder to figure out when it comes to terrorism policies as they often leave it up to viewers to report inappropriate content. Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be a recruiter and motivator for al-Qaeda was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, yet you can still find his videos and hear his anti-American sentiments on YouTube. So where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and the promotion of terrorism? YouTube seems more concerned with removing videos that are considered copyright infringement, which they remove thousands of everyday. But, you can report abuse on YouTube, as well as most other social media platforms.
For Twitter and Facebook, fighting terror is an ongoing battle. As accounts get taken down, thousands more go up. You can report abusive or suspicious activity on Twitter at https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/help/434138713297607 and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/reportabuse.
Keep in mind, just as the world is a dangerous place if you wander down the wrong road, the same is true about the internet and social media. Information is power when it comes to keeping loved ones safe from social terror, cyberbullying and all the dark corners of the internet.