Social Media, Free Speech and Global Terrorism: The Battle of Ideas.

How the power of social media is being harnessed by the world’s most feared terrorists. 

Technology has changed our lives. The growth of social media has brought in an era of mass communication and with it mass connection with millions of people around the world.  However with the rise of the internet has come instantaneous and almost untraceable propaganda for terrorist organisations.  In the internet domain governments are struggling to contain the spread of such radical ideologies. We are unprotected from the cyber poison of these groups. The use of globalised social media by IS is one current example of this. The growth of global information sharing has made it harder for dictatorships to keep their people in ignorance, but from events in the Middle East it’s clear to see that is not clear cut. Where states were liberated in the name of democracy and freedom their hope was replaced by instability, civil war and the rise of military factions such as IS, so in reality whole regions have been destabilised and technology and social media has paved the way.  Has the globalised technology sharing failed those in Syria, Iraq, etc? Yes, to some extent technology has provided a way for terrorist groups to profit and flourish.

IS has used the internet unlike any other group before them.  They aim their reach beyond the Arab world.  Only 3.7% of the world’s internet users come from the Middle East and only 40.2% of Middle Easterners have access to the Internet.  It is clear from these statistics that IS use of social media is aimed at Westerners that have greater access to social media rather than the relatively unconnected people of the Middle East. Furthermore, many of the Jihadis murdering for IS are illiterate and ‘educated’ in extremist Madrasas, so they cannot read the tweets or posts.  IS aims are clear – radicalise Western Muslims who feel alienated by the Western culture of equal rights for women, multiculturalism and democracy. It is easy pickings reaching out to kids growing up in the Muslim ghettos of France or Belgium or even the radicalised and illegal schools in Birmingham.  Despite the UK’s online measures against terrorist content that started in 2010 and the removal of 75,000 pieces of content from the internet by March 2015, the UK is the 2nd leading source of radicalised individuals traveling to fight for the Islamic State from Europe. The first is France.

IS are using a variety of highly encrypted apps to spread not just propaganda, but also training materials, advice on how to get weapons and build bombs and how to commit lone wolf style attacks of Jihad.  This covert information sharing is vital to the terrorist operation, but it is overshadowed by IS’s use of propaganda videos.  Only 2% of IS propaganda is brutality the rest is desperately trying to display an Islamic utopia that IS. Although, The 2% definitely makes an impact consisting of executions of women, homosexuals, foreigners, aid workers and journalists. The latest video of supposedly five British spys being executed point blank and with a young boy allegedly from Lewisham, London talking about killing infidels.  It hits hard. The boy embodies IS poison leaching into every pore of innocents. It makes us question of we can stop it.

Terrorist organisations are ahead of the law enforcement agencies and the only way to combat them would be to allow government access to encrypted communications.  Protecting our liberal democracies through illiberal means sacrifices our privacy and data security.  It also brings up questions of free speech on social media by non-sympathisers of IS. Islam unlike any other religion has waged a war on what ‘offends’ it which can be seen in the targeting of France a country that enjoys satire, the jihad on Salman Rushdie and other writers. Should we give up our free speech to try and appease extremists? No. We should tweet up louder.  “Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They are defeated with better ideas,” President Barack Obama said in July 2015. “This larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle.”  Global terrorism powered by social media is the age we live in, but we can share secular information and facts about human rights to minimalize IS’s exploitation of the ignorant and vulnerable on the internet.

By Vicki Lincoln


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