The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and similar groups turn to the Internet for recruitment

The recent explosion of popularity and use of social media and networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, has completely altered the way information spreads across the globe. However, whether or not this change is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

“Any change of this magnitude has positive and negative aspects,” said Diane Norman, the managing editor for the Hendersonville Times-News. “I think it is wonderful that people, in what we consider to be (developing nations) countries or oppressed societies, can now communicate with the outside world, (but) these communications have the potential to be tools of terror.”

Indeed, three years ago, the United States’ Department of Homeland Security made the discovery that Jihadi militants had begun attempting to recruit new fighters to their cause via avenues such as Twitter and Facebook. In addition to being the tools of violent organizations, al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are now maintaining an active web presence. Some fighters even have followers who number in the thousands.

Through romanticized tweets espousing the ideals and goals of these groups, as well as other visual propaganda such as photographs of masked fighters armed with machine guns, groups like al-Qaeda hope to entice young American sympathizers.

In an interview with NPR in Dec. 2011, William McCants, from the Center of Naval Analyses, stated that these attempts were an interesting new outlet for terrorist groups but that ultimately, they appeared to be a complete disaster for them as well.

However Dina Temple-Raston, NPR’s counter-terrorism correspondent, said terror groups are less interested in pinpointing recruits than broadcasting information across the Internet where many more potential fighters may see it.

“It’s not about accuracy. It’s about immediacy,” said Temple-Raston.

Whether or not these tactics are successful, the questions remain. Do websites like these have an ethical responsibility to uphold? Or should Twitter and Facebook be monitoring and alerting the United States government to activity such as al-Qaeda recruiting on the web?

Opinions on this issue are mixed.

“Yes, I think that they do have an ethical responsibility to make it harder for terrible people with odious viewpoints to use their sites to attract and encourage likeminded people,” said Vance Ricks, associate professor of philosophy. “But I’m really not sure that I’m right about that.”

“After all, to whom would they have that responsibility? Would it be to the other users and account holders? Would it be to the governments of the countries where the jihadist fighters and organizers live or fight? Would it be to humanity at large? Would it be to their own vision of the kind of space they want to create?”

Some feel that monitoring and reporting suspicious activity online would be an infringement of our First Amendment rights.

“Facebook and Twitter are like AT&T — they carry the signals,” said Norman. “I don’t think it’s appropriate in our free society for these communications to be screened or censored. (It is) incumbent of the users to behave in an ethical manner. It isn’t the government’s duty.”

On the other hand, some people feel differently about censorship and the government’s role in this process.

“I’m all for the First Amendment, free speech and all, but neither Facebook, Twitter or the Department of Homeland Security are doing their jobs effectively if they are not policing the web for this sort of thing,” said Erin Skinner, a senior web analyst with ROI Revolution.

“Users of these websites are not the ones with an ethical responsibility. The government is the one who should be on the look out.”

With the recent growth of groups like the Islamic State and their sophisticated use of social media, the government may have to make their decision — whatever it may be — very soon.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Guilfordian intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Guilfordian does not allow anonymous comments, and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Guilfordian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *