Violent Extremism in the Digital Age: How to Detect and Meet the Threat

Biweekly OFDVI Task Force Meeting at the HPPD. The individuals in the photos represenAs recent headlines have shown, a growing number of individuals are encouraged to adopt extreme views and participate in violent activities through online media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Some gaming sites are used for weapons training and online dating sites for recruiting potential terrorists. Twitter is employed by extremist groups not only to communicate with youth worldwide and disseminate propaganda but also to organize and coordinate real-time attacks and then spread misinformation that can hamper the ability of law enforcement and rescue personnel to respond.

Six Awareness Briefs Detail Unseen Dangers and Practical Preventions

Online terrorism is a very complex threat, which is difficult to counter with most traditional interventions. To help law enforcement, the COPS Office has produced six new Awareness Briefs: Online Radicalization to Violent Extremism, Facebook and Violent Extremism, Online Services and Violent Extremism, Twitter and Violent Extremism, YouTube and Violent Extremism, and Homegrown Violent Extremism. Each publication details the methods in which gangs, terrorists, and other criminals use digital media and provides practical suggestions for counteracting them.

Criminal Communities Created and Armed Online

With over a billion users, Facebook alone offers terrorists easy access to gullible viewers, creating an online social environment similar to that of a gang, in which deviant behavior and violence are condoned. Postings of incendiary content such as video instructions for making explosive devices and operating weapons, lectures espousing radical views, negative information about law enforcement strategies, and procedures for hacking web sites are widespread—leading disaffected individuals of all ages and backgrounds into criminal activity. As recent headlines have demonstrated, even middle class, model high school students can be enticed into becoming terrorists.

Terrorists Recruited in Chat Rooms and Dating Sites

The fact that these activities occur online makes them harder to spot. And because these extremists are internet-savvy, they’re quite adept at eluding suspicion. They know how to get around Facebook’s policies, for instance, by linking to third party sites that contain violent content. And they can narrow-cast terrorist chat rooms to make them secure. Some even use online dating sites to recruit partners who can be persuaded to adopt their cause. What’s more, many of these activities, including the posting of extremist views and weapons-building instructions, are not necessarily criminal.

Extremists Outsmarted with Tweet-alongs and Other Online Strategies

Biweekly OFDVI Task Force Meeting at the HPPD. The individuals in the photos represSo how does a police force counter this insidious threat? Online community policing strategies can be highly effective. Indeed, law enforcement can beat the terrorists at their own game by creating Facebook pages that build trust and promote cooperation with features such as virtual ride-alongs, news about community events, guidelines for reporting suspicious online activities, and more. Departments can even conduct tweet-alongs (Twitter-based ride-alongs) in which they tweet all the calls they receive or just the activities of a specific unit.

Agencies can also link to the social media accounts of neighborhood watch groups and share these groups’ announcements and links on the agency’s page. But building trust through traditional activities—particularly those that attract youth, such as police academies and athletic leagues—can be equally effective and should be added to reinforce online efforts.

Learn More Now

For more details and additional community policing prevention tips, follow the link for each Awareness Brief below.

Online Radicalization to Violent Extremism

Facebook and Violent Extremism

Online Services and Violent Extremism

Twitter and Violent Extremism

YouTube and Violent Extremism

Homegrown Violent Extremism

Faye Elkins
Special Contributor
COPS Office

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