Social Media and Terrorism

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Long before ISIS, transnational terrorist groups had discovered the use of the Internet and social networks. Terrorists went online for recruiting, fund-raising, mission-planning, intelligence gathering, and propagandizing about their cause.  Yet, the efforts of ISIS have garnered unusual attention. In part, that is because their activities are both vigorous and especially overt. More importantly, however, they reflect what makes social networks particularly powerful and influential—the synergy that occurs when online action is linked to a robust human web.

The role of online networks in terrorist activities is poorly understood.  There is no question, of course, that social networks are powerful. For starters, they can scale very quickly. The number of people that one person can reach can be pretty impressive. Additionally, it doesn’t require a hit single to establish a formidable presence online. Social networkers with very little reach can also have an outsized impact. Their contributions may go “viral,” picked up, and retransmitted by others.

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