The boom of social media has provided millions of people will real time ways to communicate with one another. With the explosion of smartphones and mobile devices, users are more connected than ever before, and more than 6 billion people worldwide own a mobile device.
The fact that 1.8 billion people use social media globally should be cause for an international celebration of worldwide media success, but in recent years, it is becoming a glaring concern, particularly for Homeland Security and national defense sectors.
Twitter and Facebook are increasingly being utilized by the U.S. State Department to reach out to potential jihadists to dissuade them from joining Islamic extremists. Various extremists have taken to the social media waves to appeal to global citizens, asking them to join in their efforts. These posts often include propaganda photographs and gruesome images of fellow combatants wounded or killed in battle.
The Syrian war has taken center stage of late, with extremists reaching out expatriates and the larger diaspora of Muslims who may be sympathetic to the Syrian cause. A recent study showed that of the 11,000 Western Muslims who have joined rebels in Syria, roughly a quarter of them were recruited by radical Western supporters who used social media to further their plight. These fanatics recently lured a British teenager into the country using Twitter, who silently left the U.K. to join the fight. While he was killed shortly after reaching Syria, other convert extremists have tweeted missing the luxuries of home back in the U.K.
In California, social media patrolling helped to quell fears of an individual terrorist within U.S. borders last month. Nicolas Teausant, a 20-year-old college student, used his Facebook, Tumblr, and Google + accounts to post phrases and pictures that caught the attention of online users and local authorities. He publicized his conversion to Islam, and his continued search for the “The Mujahid’s Handbook,” a guide to becoming a “lone wolf terrorist,” according to the FBI.
Teausant is only one potential terrorist in a long line of online suspects that the FBI has traced. He and hundreds of other radical social media users have been detained and questioned by the FBI, leaving some people questioning the actual threat these boisterous extremist-supporters pose to the nation. Teausant did not have any formal ties to jihadists in Syria, and was caught in an FBI sting operation, trying to cross the border into Canada.
Even with these doubts, the FBI is not taking any chances. Coordinator of the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, Alberto Fernandez claims that the social media push helps combat the propaganda barrage of terrorist regimes, like Al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri has publicly announced that he uses media as a call to arms for Muslims around the world.
While there have been no clear markers as to the success of social media communications in reducing extremist converts, or ending America’s “War on Terror,” Twitter, Facebook, Google +, YouTube, and other social outlets will likely be an important part of tracing potential threats to the nation as jihadists continue sharing their beliefs and feelings using these media channels.