The Canadian government is funding a study that will examine how individuals embrace radical ideologies leading to acts of terrorism under the influence of social media. The study, led by Canadian defense analyst and researcher Arnav Manchanda, is being funded by a grant from the Kanishka Project, a memorial foundation set up to honor the victims of a terrorist attack that downed an Air India plane, killing 329 people, in 1985.
The spread of extremist ideologies via the Internet is a growing concern for governments around the world, as it presents new challenges to national security and policing efforts. While most terror networks to date have relied on direct personal contact to at least a limited degree, making it possible for law enforcement to trace connections via surveillance, “self-radicalization” or remote radicalization via social media raises the specter of an even more decentralized and diffuse terrorist threat.
This has been some time coming: in 2006 Audrey Kurth Kronin, a scholar with the U.S. War College, wrote an essay titled “Cyber-Mobilization: The New Levee en Masse,” warning that terrorists and other hostile groups were adopting social media to organize armed resistance, including indirect anonymous recruitment. The threat came into much sharper focus in April with the Boston Marathon bomb attacks, carried out by Chechen immigrants who may have become radicalized through social media, including YouTube.
In March, a conference of interior ministers from Arab countries discussed the need to counter extremist messages on social media as part of the fight against terrorism. Mohammed Kuman, Secretary General of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers, told attendees that “extremist thought... on social networks has resulted in a major increase in terrorist acts, political assassinations and sectarian conflicts,” adding, “As it has become impossible to control the content of social networks, it is important to produce counter-speech… Ideas can only be fought by ideas.”