CTX Journal Vol. 2, No. 4 - November 2012

From the Editor


Welcome to our first special issue of CTX, "Social Media in Jihad and Counterterrorism," which is devoted to a wide-ranging exploration of social media and counterterrorism. Social media have become valuable tools for combating crime and terrorism. According to LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, four out of five respondents to their survey of law enforcement professionals reported using social media, particularly Facebook and YouTube, to aid investigations. One officer said he believed his department's use of social media allowed personnel to defuse a terrorist threat involving students at a local high school. Two-thirds said they thought access to social media helps solve crimes more quickly.

To better understand the role of social media in combating terrorism, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California held a small workshop on Social Media and Counterterrorism this past June. Sponsored by the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program, the workshop brought together a diverse group of people, including researchers, law enforcement and military officers, and media experts from the United States, Ireland, and the Philippines. Participants were invited to submit papers for inclusion in this special issue of CTX.

We are delighted to present here six papers that we received from participants of the workshop. In addition, we have included a seventh paper that was submitted independently to the journal, but which fit well with the workshop theme of social media and counterterrorism.

The first piece, "The New Battlefield: The Internet and Social Media," by Maria A. Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the online social news source Rappler, describes the role of social media in the jihad in the Philippines. A veteran journalist who served many years as CNN's bureau chief in Manila and then Jakarta, Ressa's article is an expanded excerpt from her book 10 Days, 10 Years: From Bin Laden to Facebook. 

The next two articles focus on the online social environment associated with the global jihad. "From al-Zarqawi to al-Awlaki: The Emergence and Development of an Online Radical Milieu," by Dr. Maura Conway of Dublin University, discusses the online radical milieu that gives rise to violent jihad. Conway shows that many of the characteristics found in traditional radical milieus also appear in the online versions, although the latter have unique features as well. She also observes that even so-called "lone wolf" terrorists these days are at least partially the product of some kind of online radical milieu.

"Rethinking the Role of Virtual Communities in Terrorist Websites," by Dana Janbek of Lasell College in Massachusetts and Paola Prado of Roger

Williams University in Rhode Island, examines the extent to which terrorist-related websites have embraced interactive Web 2.0 applications that build community through commentary, social networking, and streaming video. Janbek and Prado found that for the most part, the sites they evaluated did not fulfill this function, offering instead static, tightly moderated, and effectively closed environments that sought to inform, persuade, and transmit a particular message rather than support the free exchange of ideas.

The fourth article, "Countering Individual Jihad: Perspectives on Nidal Hasan and Colleen LaRose," by Peter Kent Forster, considers two cases where individuals embraced a violent jihadist ideology on their own, but then were incited to commit violence through their online interactions or, using Conway's terminology, through their online radical milieus. Like Conway, Dr. Forster shows that "lone wolf " jihadists rarely act in isolation, and argues that it might be possible to prevent terrorist acts by examining online activities for signs of intent to commit terrorism.

In "Artisanal Intelligence and Information Triage," Aaron Weisburd, founder of Internet Haganah and director of the Society for Internet Research, discusses how a forensic exploration of social media can detect unknown terrorists. Drawing on his own experience in counterterrorism and intelligence-related activities, Weisburd offers a targeted approach that focuses on the social network, using a variation of "snowballing" along with information triage.

Some of the workshop participants examined the application of social media beyond the scope of counterterrorism. The sixth piece, "Another Tool in the Influencer's Toolbox: A Case Study," by LTC Jamie Efaw and SFC Christopher Heidger, describes how social media can be used to influence a population at risk from radical messaging. Building on Efaw's earlier research on the application of social media to counterterrorism, the authors describe a project that successfully leveraged a Facebook site in order to reach, engage, and influence a target audience.

The final article, "Mining Twitter Data from the Arab Spring," by Rob Schroeder, Sean Everton, and Russell Shepherd of NPS, uses social movement theory to explain how Twitter may have played a role in the Arab Spring. By analyzing Twitter data from the period between December 2010 and Fall 2011, the researchers found that activists' use of Twitter may have facilitated the framing of grievances that resonated with their target audiences and helped inspire action.

In keeping with our theme, Sean Everton next delves into the State of the Art of dark networking. Even as social media offer us more and more opportunities to connect with friends, relatives, and colleagues around the world, they give terrorists, insurgents, and criminals the same easy means to connect and coordinate and plan. Meanwhile, the security sector is becoming increasingly skilled at extracting useful information from basic social media data. Without trying to guess where this spiral may lead in the longer term, Dr. Everton gives those of us who update our status or retweet something clever plenty to think about.

In this issue, we are happy to welcome Bradley Strawser, a new contributor to our regular Ethics column. Dr. Strawser tackles the topic professionalism, its origins in three ancient professions (not including the one some of you are thinking of ), and then offers some ideas about how it applies to the military.

The book review by Joey Wang, The Harkis: The Wound that Never Heals takes us back a few decades to the end of the Algerian War of Independence, and the plight of the Harkis, Algerians who chose to join the French and fight against the insurgency. Largely ignored by the French after the war and targeted for death by the new Algerian regime, the survivors and their children tell anthropologist and author Vincent Crapanzano their story of betrayal and resignation.

As always, we encourage you to submit your work to CTX for review.

Elizabeth Skinner
Managing Editor
CTXEditor@GlobalEcco.org