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Understanding Online Radicalization: Facebook and Social Media

Although "radicalization" has become a catchword, little has been written about the methods, websites, and actors involved in the process. (This is Part Three of a series. Read Parts One and Two.)

by
Ali Teymouri

Bio

June 22, 2011 - 12:00 am
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The first two parts of this series covered the two primary website types that jihadists create to radicalize individuals, namely blogs and web forums. The third part of this series will focus on jihadi social media and how jihdaists use Facebook.
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“Islam can dominate, over the world, only by jihad,” says the very plain jihadi website realjihad.tk. It reminds readers that jihad doesn’t have stages, and that “lame excuses” like making a living shouldn’t stand in the way.

RealJihad lacks the sharp graphics, interactive chat rooms, and other tools used by more sophisticated jihadi blogs and forums. Despite this, it has a leg up on its competitors: it is one of the primary links provided on the Facebook page of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistani terror organization.

Jihadi radicalization occurs on a number of sites and is not limited to the dedicated sites, blogs, and forums commonly used by terrorist supporters. Jihadists exploit popular Western social media sites, like Facebook, to radicalize, build contact networks, and pass information.

“All users, to learn all detailed rules related to JIHAD, read from this source,” says a user on Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Facebook page, directing readers to an English-language recruiting site. “All users, plz try to read and understand the rules and virtues of JIHAD, through this weblink,” he states on another post with another link. Likewise, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s reputation for daring attacks on the Indian army and even on India’s parliament provides a base around which social media users rally.

Other designated terrorist organizations ranging from Hamas to al-Shabaab have already taken advantage of Facebook, with their spokesman units and media groups establishing pages dedicated to terror. Popular jihadi forums like Ansar al-Mujahideen and its English counterpart also operate closed discussion groups on Facebook.

Facebook’s terms of use rejects violent content: “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening … incites violence; or contains … graphic or gratuitous violence,” the guidelines state. Yet terrorist organizations bypass the rules by linking to third party sites and by posting in obscure foreign languages like Somali and Urdu.

Facebook is also inconsistent about applying standards against unofficial terrorist pages. Al-Shabaab, whose media page on Facebook was recently taken down after the Investigative Project on Terrorism wrote about it, can still influence Facebook users through an unofficial page run by the group’s supporters. More specific pages are dedicated to al-Shabaab’s followers in Kenya and elsewhere.

Self-appointed teachers — “ustadhs” — and other young radicals are also creating their own communities outside of mainstream mosques and social groups. “I don’t have sabr [patience] for the jahil [ignorant] Westernized Muslim,” says self-appointed teacher and internet extremist Khalifah al-Akili, in a posting praising Osama bin Laden and criticizing a young Muslim against extremism. “Osama [bin Laden] dedicated his life to Islam and I don’t see why his acts weren’t justified in Islam,” chimes in al-Akili’s friend, Amir Khan.

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