Online Services in the United States
The Internet has been embraced worldwide because of its widespread availability and
cost-effectiveness. As access to the Internet continues to spread and the use of social
media proliferates, people are spending more time online, connecting with one another and
creating virtual communities.
Individuals and organizations are launching websites, and posting and consuming content
from a wide array of sources, and joining multiple social media platforms, such as chat
rooms and message boards, online dating sites, and online gaming.
Online Services and Violent Extremism
This section specifically examines online services such as chat rooms, message boards, dating websites, and online gaming. Violent extremists take advantage of numerous social media platforms to make tracking and monitoring the extent of their online activities difficult.
How Extremists Use Online Services
Although individuals and organizations worldwide use online services for a variety
of legitimate reasons, violent extremists take advantage of the decentralization and the vast
number of social media platforms to make tracking and monitoring the full extent of
their online activities difficult. These groups complement their use of popular social
media sites and traditional websites by using other online services to recruit,
plan, and commit crimes: (1)
Chat rooms and message boards
Extremist groups use chat rooms and message boards to allow users to post questions and
answers about ideological justifications for violence and to show support and
encouragement for people who express a desire to launch attacks. Users post their personal experiences, grievances against enemies, and anecdotes about their path to extreme views, and they comment on the stories posted by others.
These interactions with like-minded individuals can effectively reinforce the beliefs of certain
individuals and further radicalize others. In some cases, these forums have worked to move
individuals from passively discussing violence and attacks to actively plotting with others.
Chat rooms and message boards also allow users to share operational and tactical information. Individuals share knowledge about the chemicals needed and the appropriate proportions for different improvised explosive devices (IEDs), step-by-step procedures for hacking websites and evading firewalls, and methods for ambushing and attacking others using various weapons.
Certain chat rooms and message boards have video and voice capabilities that allow users to
interact in a more secure way and in real time. In addition, many sites have no limits on the
number of chat rooms and message boards that an individual or group can establish.
Therefore, some groups narrowcast their chat rooms and message boards to appeal to specific audiences such as women and children. The rooms and boards for children glorify those who have launched successful attacks and immunize children to violence. Last, most chat rooms and message boards can also be password protected to prevent infiltration.
Online dating sites
Some extremists use online dating sites to meet people with similar views to groom
and recruit others. Individuals with radical viewpoints create profiles seeking vulnerable
partners who are likely to be sympathetic to the radical individual’s views and actions and
whom the radical individuals can leverage during different stages of plots and attacks.
(For example, some use their profile to try to find suitors whom she could stay with in Europe) (2)
Other extremists create dating profiles to search for people with similar religious or political beliefs and a desire to assist in fighting for a specific cause.
Groups of violent extremists use online gaming to practice operating different weapons and accessories, plan, coordinate and practice launching ambushes and attacks, and commit crimes. Through first-person online shooter games, players engage in combat and shootouts, using the point of view of the character. In an attempt to provide players with as real an experience as possible, these games use weapons and accessories that are available in the real world.
This provides extremists with the opportunity to practice using certain combinations of
weapons and accessories and to practice launching an attack. These games also have
multiplayer settings that allow a group to conduct a mission together and practice
communicating with one another.
Other online games can be used to buy and sell virtual goods, including groceries, land,
and clothes, and certain amounts of virtual money can be exchanged for actual money.
Extremist groups leverage this ability to launder and transfer money to those in need of
financial support to launch an attack.
The Role of Community Policing in Addressing Violent Extremism Online
Community policing promotes the use of partnerships between law enforcement and
the community to address public safety concerns. Citizens who are empowered by
law enforcement are a valuable asset to any department or agency and can play a large
role in countering violent extremism. Internet safety is a public safety concern that many law
enforcement agencies are already working with communities to address.
Ways in which law enforcement and the community can work together to help identify,
prevent, and counter online messages and activities that promote violent extremism
include the following:
Law enforcement can help raise awareness of the threats posed by online recruiters and the
various tactics they use to appeal to different individuals by educating people about how
to recognize and report suspicious online activities. Providing this education can also
empower the community to work in concert with law enforcement to formulate ideas about
appropriate measures to take to ensure their own safety and to create appropriate counternarratives to the radical views being espoused in various online forums.
Increasing an agency’s social media profile
Law enforcement agencies can also use or create their own social media accounts to
engage their communities and help keep community members away from radical
recruiters on the Internet. (3) Agencies can use social media to conduct virtual ride-alongs in
which the department can share information about calls for service. For example, officers
can post about the community events and meetings they attend and the people they
interact with, and they can encourage followers to meet them at these public events. Agencies
can also use social media to host online community meetings during which community
members submit questions via social media, and representatives can answer them.
Increasing partnerships though social media Agencies can link to the social media accounts
of neighborhood watch groups and share these groups’ announcements and links on
the agency’s page or account.
Social media partnerships help foster support for crime prevention, generate tips about unsolved crimes, and improve law enforcement and community relations. (4) These same social media strategies and partnerships that are now paying dividends with respect to crime and other public safety issues can also benefit law enforcement efforts to address online violent extremism.
Source: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice.
Online Services and the State Laws
Notes and References
- Some of the activities and uses mentioned are not necessarily illegal and may be protected
under the First Amendment and other civil rights laws. Each site allows users to block individuals from contacting them and to report content and accounts that violate a site’s terms of service. A site can remove any content that is determined to violate its terms, and users who post such content are subject to having their account suspended or removed.
- John Shiffman, “Special Report: From Abuse to a Chat Room, a Martyr is Made—
Jane’s Jihad,” Reuters, December 7, 2012,
- For more information about how law enforcement can use social media sites, visit IACP’s Center for Social Media at IACPsocialmedia.org.
- Of the agencies using social media, 73.1 percent indicated that social media has improved police-community relations in their jurisdiction. See “2013 Social Media Survey Results,” (Alexandria, VA: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2013), iacpsocialmedia.
- Homegrown Violent Extremism
- Online Radicalization
- Twitter Violent Extremism
- YouTube Violent Extremism
- Facebook Violent Extremism
- Violent Extremism
- Information about Online Services in the Gale Encyclopedia of American Law.