Washington, DC — Arabic-language jihadist web forums are much more active than those in English, and more jihadists are joining Twitter to communicate their beliefs, according to a new report commissioned by the New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program and written by Aaron Y. Zelin, a Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
The report, The State of Global Jihad Online, is a result of a three-month research period and provides some baseline insights into online jihadist communications, an area with surprisingly little empirical research.
• Arabic-language jihadist forums are far more active and have more subscribers that the English-language forums, indicating that al-Qaeda’s ideology has struggled to penetrate the West. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, “homegrown” extremism was a major concern, which grew with the rise of Anwar al-Awlaki as a prominent English-speaking jihadist figure.
• The main jihadist forums appear to be vulnerable to takedowns – likely by a Western intelligence agency – but smaller forums easily fill the communication vacuum created in their absence. Indeed, during research for the report, the main forums were down for approximately two weeks, interrupting the data collection but allowing the author to observe how jihadists react to the disappearance of their primary communication platforms.
• Jihadists are increasingly turning to social media sites such as public blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to exchange ideas and publicize their beliefs. While more jihadists continue to join Twitter, it is unlikely to replace the web forums traditionally used for discussion. However, Twitter does provide terrorist organizations a more public means of to provide rapid response to breaking news or to live-tweet extended violent events.
“It is only a matter of time before terrorists begin routinely using Twitter, Instagram, and other services in ongoing operations," the report states. "We have already seen this in a limited manner from al-Shabaab, which tweets its #JihadDispatches on recent battles. But those delivery mechanisms are unlikely to replace the forums as the main environment for conversation and information distribution among jihadis."
To read the full report, click here.
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