Socially mediated terrorism poses devilish dilemma for social responses

Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Kyushu University

The terrorist attacks in Paris have resonated around the world. In addition to physical violence, Islamic State (IS) is pursuing a strategy of socially mediated terrorism. The symbolic responses of its opponents can be predicted and may inadvertently further its aims.

In the emotion of the moment, we need to act. We need to be cautious, however, of symbolic reactions that divide Muslims and non-Muslims. We need emblems that act against the xenophobia that is a recruiting tool for jihadists.

Reactions from the West should not erode the Muslim leadership that is essential to overturning “Islamic State”. Queen Rania of Jordan points out:

What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims. But really this fight is a fight between the civilised world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realise that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.

Queen Rania’s statement characterises the Paris attacks as part of a wider conflict around cultural values. How are these values playing out symbolically across the globe?

Propaganda seeks predictable responses

IS’s socially mediated propaganda is sophisticated and planned. This supports an argument that the Paris attacks are the beginning of a global campaign. Symbolic materials characterise IS as invincible. However, other evidence may indicate that it is weak.

The IS representation of the Eiffel Tower.
SITE Intelligence Group

The spontaneous celebration on Twitter by IS supporters was predictable. Its representational coverage of the Paris attacks, however, suggests deep planning.

This planning is embedded in professionally designed images. A reworked image depicts the Eiffel Tower as a triumphal arch with the IS flag flying victoriously on top.

The tower is illuminated and points to the heavens and a God-given victory. The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the text states, “We are coming, France” and “The state of Khilafa”.

IS is using symbolic representations of the Paris attacks to garner new recruits.

A sophisticated pre-prepared image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris engulfed in flames was quickly distributed. It is inscribed with the word “France under fire” in Arabic and French.

IS had its ‘France under fire’ image ready to post immediately after the attacks.
INSITE on Terrorism

IGN Entertainment Games

This image keys into the heroic tropes of online video gaming, such as prototype and inFAMOUS. Chillingly, it is designed to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors.

The five million young Muslims in France are particular targets. Among online recruitment materials are videos calling them to join other young French nationals who are with IS.


Support for the victims in Paris and for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity are embedded in the blue, white and red lights movement. These lights shone in major cities in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and South America. The blue, white and red lights also were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia.

However, the light displays were seen in few countries with Muslim majorities overall. Such countries are in an invidious position. Display the lights and you may be characterized as a lackey of the West. Don’t display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims.

Facebook blue white and red Paris
author provided/courtesy J. Smith

Support also is embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allows members to activate a tri-colour filter. Adapted from a rainbow filter used to support same-sex marriage, this filter attracts those with liberal sentiments.

The question of whether to use the French flag to show sympathy for the victims is invidious at a personal level. Many people find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neoliberal economic models. They are put in a difficult position. They feel sympathy for the victims. However, they are bitter about how they are being treated by “the West”, including France.

Perils of an ‘us and them’ mindset

As the blue, white and red activism plays out around the globe, there is a potential for this to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an “us and them” mentality. Such a division would support xenophobic forces, which steer recruits towards IS.

The global impact of the attacks can be related to the iconic status of Paris. The attacks hold a personal dimension for millions of people who have visited this city. They have a sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. This emotion echoes responses to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

The Japanese and Italian cafes included in the attacks are symbolic targets for their countries. In March 2015, IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnan stated that the group would attack “Paris, before Rome”. Rome is a target because of its symbolic role as the centre of Christianity. Japan is a target because of its role in coalition forces. It has already suffered the execution of Japanese hostages early in 2015.

In Japan, the cultural reaction has been relatively low key, as part of a strategy of minimising terrorist attention. The blue, white and red lights solidarity received minimal press coverage. There have been few reports of the Japanese restaurant that was one of the targets. In addition to factual coverage of the attacks, Japanese reports have concentrated on implications for security at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there any symbols indicating good news? The Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers could be a sign of weakness. It could have been “planted” there – why carry a passport on a suicide mission?

If so, its purpose is to increase European xenophobia and encourage the closing of borders to Syrian refugees. This suggests the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from Syria is hurting IS. The propaganda could be a sign of alarm in IS leadership ranks.

In our responses to the Paris attacks, the grief of the West should not be allowed to overshadow the opprobrium of Muslim countries. Muslims are best placed to challenge the Islamic identity of this self-declared state.

As Queen Rania states, the war against IS must be led by Muslims and Arabs. To ensure success, the international community needs to support, not lead, Muslim efforts.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Research Associate in Archaeology, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Professor of Archaeology, Kyushu University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How social media was key to Islamic State’s attacks on Paris

Robyn Torok, Edith Cowan University

While the average person was getting on with life in Paris before last Friday’s terror bombings and shootings, Twitter threads in Arabic from the Middle East were urging for attacks to be launched upon coalition forces in their home countries.

“Advance, advance – forward, forward” they said, regarding Paris.

Iraqi forces had warned coalition countries one day before the attack that IS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had called for “[…] bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days”.

In addition, social media message “Telegrams” from The Islamic State Media Center’s Al-Hayat were telling that something more sinister may be afloat, or at least in the works.

In late September, 2015, IS made use of the new “Channels” tool, on Telegrams, setting up its very own channel called Nashir, which translates as “distributor” in English.

Hiding in privacy

Telegram is an app, launched in 2013, that can be set up on almost any device and allows messages to be sent to users, with a strong focus on privacy.

Telegram is one of many messaging applications that can be used to send private messages.

IS utilises the service of Telegram channels because it is more difficult for security agencies to monitor and disrupt than other platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

An important tool that agencies use to tackle violent extremism is that of counter-narratives. The aim here is address and challenge propaganda and misinformation being disseminated by IS to potential recruits or IS sympathisers.

This is used as a form of disruption to the flow of information and recruitment process. But with Telegrams – since information moves in one direction – it makes it harder to counter jihad propaganda and lies.

Telegrams is used by IS to not just post propaganda, but to spread training manuals, advice on how to obtain and import weapons, how to make bombs and how to perform single jihadi attacks on individuals with household equipment.

It has posts on launching attacks at soft targets and the activation of lone-wolf style attacks, or give the green light for small terrorists pockets or cells within the community to conduct their onslaught.

Inciting acts of violence is a key element of IS’s radical religious ideology. It mandates that its people are following the “true” path of Allah and are helping to bring to pass a great apocalyptic battle between coalition forces and “Rome”, which to them is the will of Allah.

Social media advantage

Social media is prominent in recruitment strategies used by terrorist groups, in particular, IS.

Facebook is a key platform to gather young fans, supporters and recruits to incite them to acts of violence by the means of propaganda and the use of Islamic grievance.

When it comes to real-time orchestrating of terror events, IS is adopting encrypted messaging applications – including Kik, Surespot, Wickr and Telegram, as previously mentioned – that are very difficult to compromise or even hack.

What is advantageous for IS is that messages being sent have what is termed a “burn time” which means they will be deleted after a certain time and will not show up on a phone or other device.

This benefits recruiters as it means they can fly under the radar more readily which makes it more difficult for agencies to detect and prevent attacks.

Also, IS is using the PlayStation 4 network to recruit and plan attacks. Belgium’s deputy prime minister and minister of security and home affairs, Jan Jambon, said PlayStation4 was more difficult for authorities to monitor than WhatsApp and other applications.

After the Paris attacks

Not long after the attacks in Paris, IS released an audio and written statement claiming the attack as its own from command central. This was systematically and widely broadcast across social media platforms.

Contained in this statement were future warnings that “[…] this is just the beginning of attacks […]”. At the same time, a propaganda video entitled “What are you waiting for?” was circulated on Facebook, Twitter and Telegrams.

IS continues to use social media as part of its terror campaign. Its aim is to maintain the focus of its recruits and fighters within coalition countries. It also aims to further recruit home-grown jihadists to acts of violence while driving fear into the heartland of European and Western countries.

While privacy is something on everyone’s mind, encryption applications have gained much momentum to allow people to communicate without worrying about unwanted third party access.

Unfortunately, terrorists have also utilised these features as a means to go undetected in organising real-time operations and preparation for terrorist attacks.

Terrorists are ahead of the A-game and we don’t want to be playing continual catch-up. If terrorists are to continue using these applications to arrange acts of terrorism in a covert manner, then security agencies need to be able to balance the collection of information from technological advanced services with that of human intelligence.

Dealing with the threat of misuse of encrypted applications by IS and other terror organisations, would mean that law enforcement and agencies would require access to encrypted communications. While one could argue this may compromise data security and that it should also be assessed alongside internet vulnerabilities, this must be balanced against the current climate of security threat both domestically and internationally.

The Conversation

Robyn Torok, PhD Candidate, Security Research Institute, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Digital seduction of jihad: Social media delivering militants’ message and driving recruitment

Originally posted on National Post | News:

The transitions of three young Canadian men are each severe and mystifying: a confident, ambitious student-council president in Hamilton who snuck away to fight with ISIS in Syria; a poker-playing party guy in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu who steered his car into two soldiers; and, the most recent to force headlines, a troubled drug addict and petty criminal who shot dead a soldier on ceremonial duty in Ottawa before storming Canada’s Parliament.

Each came from a different place, geographically but also socially, but all ended up in a similar space, as bit players in a driving global narrative of Westerners swapping normality — traversing the spectrum from laudable to disgraceful — for a life and quick death consumed by extremist ideology and violent aggression.

Twitter Twitter

And in each case, what has thusly emerged as a common thread is not a clandestine sect of militant recruiters in Canada mentoring selected targets but rather a…

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Social Media: Gaining Control

The following articles are the first two in a series concerning the very difficult task of controlling social media and the various social networks/web applications that you use. There are of course various strategies that can be used and usually some customised form that suits your own situation is generally the way to go. I find myself constantly adapting what I do to meet my current situation. Sometimes the strategy works for a while before breaking down, while at other times the strategy doesn’t appear to get me too far at all.

Perhaps what is outlined in the various articles below will be a help to you. Some of what is mentioned in the articles are strategies I already use and that sucessfully, but not owning a smartphone means I am limited to using various web applications and strategies, so they won’t all work for me.

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