Countering Online Radicalisation

Anne Gerdes, Ph.D.


In 2008 militant violent jihad web sites were shot down by international authorities, as part of the “war on terror” strategy. But fighting dedicated jihadist websites and forums is not sufficient in order to dam up for online radicalisation. As a consequence of the international banning strategy towards militant homepages, al-Qaeda and jihadist Internet Brigades have increased their presence on global social networking platforms, like YouTube and Facebook. Contrary to an ordinary Web forum, which grows into a mature community by passing through certain developmental stages in establishing critical mass of users and content; Facebook provides a full blown community of friends, in which new groups can easily launch their ideas and foster engagement among friends and related networks of friends. Apart from offering an easy set up framework for groups, Facebook also facilitates a new type of mass interpersonal persuasion, which might sustain radicalisation (Fogg, 2008). Likewise, YouTube provides an accessible platform, motivating participants to contribute by uploading videos or making comments.

Thus, the spread of jihad-promoting content continues, and more over, it now reaches a broader audience besides sworn followers (CTA: Center for Terror Analysis. The Danish Security Intelligence Service, 2010, p. 3), (Bermingham, Conway, McInerney, O’Hare & Smeaton, 2009). Furthermore, the banning-strategy of violent jihad Websites has advanced the transfer of the jihadist online movement, from static Web 1.0 use of the internet – which relay on one-way, typically top-down, communication, focusing on passive acquisition of information – into Web 2.0 use modes, characterized by participation via bottom-up activities and many-to-many communication, in which participants take part in the construction of vivid communities.

In a forthcoming book, Investigating Cyber Law and Cyber Ethics: Issues, Impacts and Practices, edited by Dudley, Braman and Vincenti, I contribute with a chapter called: “Al-Qaeda on Web 2.0 – Radicalisation and Recruitment Strategies” (Gerdes, 2011). Here, I discuss the al-Qaeda Web and media strategy. A strategy, which makes them stand out from other extremist groups, who in most cases lack an overall approach towards branding and Web communication. Consequently, I illustrate the impact of the al-Qaeda media strategy, which enables al-Qaeda to set the agenda for online global jihadism and cultivate virtual communities of engaged jihobbyists (a term coined by Jarret Brachman: Brachman, 2008, p. 19). Thus, I mainly address issues of radicalisation and recruitment by emphasizing how strategic use of Web 2.0 tools scaffolds jihadist activities. In this paper, I set out to discuss prototypical strategies for fighting online jihadist radicalisation (in the form of top-down controlled strategies versus bottom-up user driven strategies). First, al-Qaeda as a global online social movement is described, stressing their professional media strategy, which enables al-Qaeda to enhance processes of self-radicalisation among young people with extremist attitudes. Within this context, I analyse different strategies for breaking the circle of radicalisation and introduce ethical reflections (Macintyre, 1999, 2000, Løgstrup, 1997, Benkler & Nissenbaum 2006) in order to discuss the potentials of these initiatives.


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