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The Use of Social Media by Terrorists

Foreign and domestic terrorist organizations employ sophisticated propaganda to spread their brand of violent extremism. The messaging is directed at receptive or vulnerable audiences to persuade them to support or commit acts of violence in pursuit of the ideology. This could appear as an individual joining or providing material assistance to a terrorist organization, or it could emerge as an individual becoming a homegrown violent extremist inspired by, but not directly affiliated with, a terrorist organization.

Terrorists frequently utilize Social media to disseminate propaganda. Propaganda, in general, employs multimedia communications to impart ideological or practical instruction, to explain, to justify, or to promote terrorist operations. These include virtual communications, presentations, publications, treatises, video, audio, and video games developed by terrorist groups or their supporters.

While propaganda is not generally prohibited, terrorists make extensive use of it to promote terrorism. Not only is social media used to spread extremist speech and films, but it is also used to develop relationships with them and gather support from those most receptive to targeted propaganda. Terrorist groups are increasingly recruiting covertly using propaganda distributed via passcode-protected websites and limited online discussion groups. The global reach of the internet enables terrorist groups and their supporters to recruit from a broader set of recruits. Cyber forums with restricted access provide a venue for recruits to learn about and join terrorist organizations, as well as engage in direct actions supporting terrorist objectives. The use of technical obstacles to entry for recruitment platforms also complicates intelligence and law enforcement professionals following terrorism-related behavior.

Terrorist organizations can now recruit and train future terrorists using social media. Due to the platforms’ online nature and lack of physical presence, terrorists will take advantage of the absence of supervision. Furthermore, the media makes it easier for terrorists to persuade potential members without interference from third parties. The organizations can operate in a broad geographic region and may even recruit and train mini-terrorist organizations in the target locations.

The government employs strategies to combat radicalization on social media and the internet. These strategies include restricting and prohibiting the transmission of terrorist content and propaganda in the online realm through digital mechanisms and technologies. This involves legislative and policy measures; content and access to social media platforms are blocked; and terrorist content is filtered and removed from platforms. These processes are inextricably linked, as legislation governing digital prevention can only be altered and changed in response to the emergence of new technological instruments in the prevention area.

The government has taken several tactics to prevent terrorism online, including blocking access to a terrorist group’s internet and social media outlets. This has taken the form of restricting specific websites and social media pages to completely shutting down social media services.

The government should consider alternative approaches, such as limiting terrorist organizations’ content access. However, it is worth noting that barring entire platforms has unintended consequences for the broader public and poses a high risk of violating universal human rights. Additionally, internet platforms are generally robust; another frequently takes its place when one platform is blocked.


Dean, G., & Bell, P. (2012). The dark side of social media: review of online terrorism. Pakistan Journal of Criminology3(4), 191-210.

Weimann, G. (2014). New terrorism and new media (Vol. 2). Washington, DC: Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


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