What is social media’s role in terrorism?

Does social media play a role in terrorism? Of course not, is what I immediately think. Then I begin to critically think about it. Many people across the world use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., so why wouldn’t terrorists?

Now you’re asking yourself, what use would a terrorist have for sites where teenagers post their daily doings, selfies or videos of themselves twerking. If a teenage pop star from Canada can become famous by posting videos on YouTube, why can’t a terrorist group strike fear into citizens’ hearts?

During the recent attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the terrorist groups al-Shabaab was tweeting about the events. In one tweet al-Shabaab told the public that, “The Mujahideen are still strong inside #Westgate Mall and still holding their ground,” as officials were saying that the mall was secure. Officials were attempting to keep citizens calm about the situation and reassure them that they had the event under control, but as soon as al-Shabaab announced that it wasn’t under control, people began to doubt the law enforcement.

Social networks have been used for creating new identities or masking a person’s real identity. It has become such a big thing, that there is even a television show about it on MTV called “Catfish.” In fact, it’s such a big fad that Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, uses his Instagram to portray himself as a peaceful man. On his Instagram account, @syrianpresidency, pictures of him with the sick, elderly and feeding the hungry have been uploaded. He is convincing his 40,295 followers that he is, indeed, a nonviolent man. In modern teenage terms, he is “catfishing” his audience.

And if there was no threat from social media, why would other governments ban some sites? If there is a possibility that social media could aid in the overthrow of a government, could it not also aid in the planning of an attack on civilians? Could terrorism be accomplished through Twitter or Facebook? Does terrorism need to be a physical attack? #thinkaboutit.

Marisa Evans-Looney


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