The Darker Side of Facebook: Online Jihad

Recently, The Social Network garnered the Boston, New York, and Los Angeles film critics awards, the latest in a string of accolades. The Social Network dramatizes the foundation of Facebook, the $50 billion social networking site that now claims to host more than 500 million members worldwide. No doubt about it -- Facebook is a monster, and as is the way with monsters, it may have grown beyond its creator’s intentions, or ability to control.

Twice in as many weeks, Facebook has played a central role in the recruitment and apprehension of would-be domestic jihadists. It has become increasingly clear that this social network is now a tool readily employed by jihadists and their supporters around the globe.

When Antonio Martinez (aka Muhammad Hussain) was arrested in Baltimore for plotting to blow up an Army recruiting center, it was soon revealed that Martinez had posted his aims on Facebook, trying even to recruit other Muslim Facebook "friends" into roles as accomplices (roles they declined to play). Alerted to his Facebook posts by unnamed sources, undercover FBI agents supplied Martinez with dummy explosives -- and watched as he attempted to detonate them.

Days later, Awais Younis was taken into custody in Alexandria, Virginia, following his threats to blow up D.C.-area targets including Metro trains and sewers in heavily populated areas of Georgetown. As in the Martinez case, Younis was reported to law enforcement in the wake of his Facebook posts; unlike Martinez, Younis has only been charged with making threatening communications.

These two cases are not coincidental. According to a recently released DHS report marked “sensitive,” intended for “Law Enforcement, DOD, or U.S. Intelligence Agencies” only:

jihad supporters and mujahideen are increasingly using Facebook, one of the largest, most popular and diverse social networking sites, both in the United States and globally, to propagate operational information, including IED recipes primarily in Arabic, but in English, Indonesian, Urdu and other languages as well. While some tactical information is available on Facebook, the majority of extremist use of Facebook focuses on disseminating ideological information and exploiting the site as an alternative media outlet for terrorist propaganda. However, to a lesser degree, the site is used as a gateway to radical forums and jihadi sites with explicit radical agendas (and easily downloadable operational information) and as a platform to promulgate some tactical and operational information.

How prevalent is this problem? Facebook’s search function readily reveals the breadth and depth of the jihadist infestation of the social network.

Using basic keywords translated with Google into Arabic, Persian (Farsi), and Urdu, one quickly racks up examples. The Arabic word jihad (الجهاد) reveals numerous profiles and groups supporting the violent dissemination of Islam worldwide -- such as this one, with 75 members; this one, with 296 members; this one, with 85 members; this one, with 98 members; this one, with 298 members; and this one, in support of the al-Quds Brigade, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, with 1,700 members.