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Social Media, Religion and Violence

Studio 12 Blog 4/24/13

Terror Timeline

2011 was a landmark year for Social Media to assert itself as a key driver of world affairs. In that year Social Media sites Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube played a prominent role in maintaining the revolutionary momentum of countries like Egypt and Tunisia, and they continue to spark change in Syria. In April of that year, social networks played a vital role in managing international donations for the Japanese tsunami relief efforts. Later that fall, Twitter helped to evacuate communities and guide government relief volunteers with real-time safety updates during a particularly devastating flood season in Thailand. Not to mention, Twitter was first to break the news of the killing and capture of Osama Bin Laden, also in 2011.

Will 2013 prove to be the landmark year for Social Media emerging as a force in global terrorism?

Social Media has a complicated relationship with terrorism. It has both the power to thwart it and to enable it. Here’s how:

A Force For Good

  • The presence of smartphones helped to identify the Dzhokhar and Tamarlan Tsarnaev as the Boston Marathon bombers when the FBI asked anyone on site with photos and video to submit them to authorities.
  • Sending in real-time tips via Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook helped authorities track down the Boston bombing suspects.
  • Authorities during the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers used live feeds on social networks to keep citizens apprised of the regional lockdown for public safety.

A Force For Evil

  • Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told authorities that him and his brother were radicalized via the Internet. The same social networks used to stop terrorism are used by global terror networks to radicalize and recruit.
  • 90% of organized terrorism online takes place via social media according to a study by the University of Haifa, Israel.
  • The Taliban has maintained a Twitter account since May 2011 and has more than 7,000 followers.
  • Somalia-based terror cell Al-Shabab has tens of thousands of people following its @HSMPress Twitter handle.

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