Thwarting Terrorism Through Stronger Public-Private Alliances

January 2024

Social media platforms have been used by terrorist organizations for years. Just as social media enables businesses, charities, and individuals to spread their messages widely, efficiently, and inexpensively, these platforms are used by extremist groups, terrorists, and criminal organizations to communicate with collaborators and with the public. A wide range of violent groups have utilized social media to coordinate plans, spread their messages of hate, recruit supporters, raise funds, sway public opinion through disinformation, and traumatize observers with disturbing content. The techniques utilized by these organizations vary in their scope and complexity, from simple posts by individual members to AI bots that can artificially sway populations through algorithms and bots that interact with audiences as though they were humans.

The Islamic State’s “The Flames of War” video stands as an example of a powerful recruiting tool, reaching millions with a high production value and sophisticated psychological manipulation. This video led to a significant spike in recruitment and flood of foreign fighters leaving their homes to join the cause of ISIS. Other groups have used their own social media strategies to sway public opinion, attract followers, raise funding, and otherwise forward their agendas.

Recently, there has been a new wave of social media manipulation by terrorist groups that capitalize on the accessibility and reach of platforms to contact people all over the world. The most extreme example of this has been the use of social media by Hamas after its massive rocket attack on Israeli settlements in October of 2023. Hamas, a designated terrorist organization headquartered in the Gaza strip of Israel, has attempted to manipulate several large social media platforms to bolster support for their deadly attacks against Israel, and to spread various types of disinformation in order to sway the public’s beliefs about the nature of the conflict. Social media sites have been at the center of Hamas activity, so much so that certain sites were ordered by the European Union, under the Digital Services Act (DSA), to provide information regarding illegal disinformation propagated by Hamas on these platforms. The challenges facing some of these platforms in their efforts to address terrorist content could be the result of several factors, including possible logistical limitations in finding, blocking / deleting, and reporting terrorist content amidst the almost unimaginable amount of data that moves through each social media platform daily.

From the point of view of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the content posted by terrorist groups can be a goldmine of information. When investigators utilize the latest AI-enabled analytics solutions, they can gain crucial insights that can help them to understand, track, disrupt, and even prevent terrorist activities. Companies like Voyager Labs can provide investigators with tools that enable them to analyze publicly available terrorist communications on the worldwide web and dark web, translated from over 100 different languages. These solutions can help human investigators with the identification of terrorist suspects, network analysis, decoding of terrorist communications and planning, locating terrorist cells, and analyzing information about the funding and recruiting of these groups. The connections and insights that can come from this kind of AI-powered analysis can enable law enforcement and intelligence entities to reduce, or even prevent, the damage caused by extremist groups.

In order to better address domestic and global terrorist threats, it may be necessary to develop a closer working relationship among social media platforms, analytics companies, and security authorities. The more that these types of organizations can collaborate, sharing technology and information as well as defining protocols and best practices for the ethical and legal usage of AI, the better the chances are of thwarting terrorism activities and protecting the innocent.

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