Twitter Violent Extremism

Violent Extremism using Twitter in the United States

How Extremists Use Twitter

Although individuals and organizations worldwide use Twitter for a variety of legitimate reasons, violent extremists, gangs, and terrorist groups use it to connect with their supports. (1)

The following identifies the ways domestic and international extremists of all persuasions use Twitter to promote violence:

Recruitment

Twitter provides violent extremists with an international recruiting ground. From November 2010 to February 2012, the number of Internet users who used Twitter nearly doubled. (2) Twitter is available around the world,
and the site supports more than 35 languages. (3)

Furthermore, more than 75 percent of active users access Twitter on Internet-enabled mobile devices, (4) which may account for why Twitter is most popular among younger users. (5) Approximately 26 percent of Internet
users between the ages of 18 and 29 have a Twitter account, far exceeding the next-closest demographic. (6)

Extremists take advantage of the fact that parents and law enforcement often are not aware of the dangers that could be present when a young person spends large amounts of time on Twitter. Extremist individuals and
organizations use this viewing potential to create lines of communication, making it easier for extremists to find, recruit, groom, and communicate with young people worldwide.

This aids extremist groups intent on attacking Western countries and their interests in creating an international network of followers that can be radicalized to violence. Radical recruiters also contact users who have re-tweeted their posts and left favorable comments on numerous tweets that express a desire to become involved in the cause.

Radicalization

Many extremist organizations use Twitter to issue statements and press releases, disseminate propaganda, and provide justification or encouragement for attacks. Whether their narrative suggests that the West is at war with Islam, the government is overstepping its bounds, or that certain religions or races are inferior, groups use
Twitter to broadcast their ideology and propaganda to a large audience. This promotion can also take the form of directly criticizing opposing sources and information on other Twitter accounts. These groups can also post links to other websites and pages with radical content.

Mobilization

Extremist groups can leverage the ability to tweet near real-time messages to numerous people to organize demonstrations and to plot simultaneous attacks. They can also use tweets with pictures that have geolocation data or other identifying information to coordinate ambushes and attacks.

Response

Immediately after a successful attack, extremists can use Twitter to effectively spread misinformation and hamper the ability of first responders and law enforcement to respond. After the 2008 bombing at a hotel in Mumbai,
India, the Pakistani government asked all tweets about the incident to stop because the perpetrators were monitoring Twitter for updates about the response and search. (7)

Violent groups can also use Twitter to claim responsibility for attacks, link to articles and videos about the attacks, praise attackers, and call for similar attacks.

The Role of Community Policing in Addressing Violent Extremism on Twitter

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 (CVE).

Individuals using Twitter to groom and recruit extremists are 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 use Twitter to help identify, prevent, and counter violent extremism include the following:

Enhancing trust to increase reporting

By working with the community, law enforcement can enhance the trust needed for this partnership to work. Trust is especially important to countering violent extremism initiatives. Community members tend to feel more comfortable reporting suspicious activities and providing information to law enforcement when they trust that the agency will handle the information appropriately and that the agency is transparent about its efforts.

Building trust can start as working with the community and attending community events in uniform. This allows community members to put names and faces to badges and uniforms and see law enforcement officers as community members too.

Enhancing transparency and communication

Communication shapes how individuals view law enforcement and their willingness to collaborate. Without balanced, two-way communication and transparency regarding an agency’s countering violent extremism initiatives, the community may believe that law enforcement is only interested in engaging the community as a source of information. Communities that believe law enforcement is only interested in collecting information and co-opting them into the intelligence gathering process—known as “securitizing” the relationship—are likely to feel alienated and less likely to work with law enforcement and report suspicious activity.

Creating agency Twitter feeds

Law enforcement agencies can create their own Twitter account to connect with members of the community and provide followers an official outlet to stay informed. (8) Creating an account is a free, easy way for an agency to reach large portions of the community at once. Tweets can include information about upcoming community events, links to pages to report suspicious activities and other tips, information about preparedness plans, news and press releases, links to information on the agency’s website, and other information.

Enhancing law enforcement and community policing missions

Police departments can adapt the features of Twitter to expand their communication, outreach, and response practices in a variety of innovative ways. For example, departments can conduct tweet-alongs, or virtual ridealongs, in which a department can choose a certain time to tweet all the calls it receives, all calls of a certain type, or the activities of a specific officer or unit. Officers dedicated to countering violent extremism can conduct a tweet-along where they tweet 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.

Similarly, tweet chats allow followers to tweet questions to the police department, and representatives can answer them. The department can also use Twitter to officially address rumors and correct misinformation that may be generating fear in the community. And in the event of an attack, law enforcement can tweet official information and provide near real-time updates about its response.

Source: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice.

Resources

Notes and References

  1.  Some of the activities and uses mentioned are not necessarily illegal and may be protected
    under the First Amendment and other civil rights laws. Twitter allows users to block individuals from contacting them and to report content and accounts that violate the site’s terms of service. Twitter 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. For more information about Twitter’s terms of service, visit twitter.com/tos.
  2. Aaron Smith and Joanna Brenner, “Twitter Use 2012,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, May 31, 2012, pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Twitter-Use-2012.aspx.
  3. “About Twitter, Inc.,” Twitter.com, accessed December 23, 2013, https://about.twitter.com/company.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Smith and Brenner, “Twitter Use 2012.”
  6. Ibid.
  7. Mindy Chidester, “The Exploitation of Social Media by Clandestine Groups, How Law Enforcement and Intelligence Can Better Utilize Social Media, and Legal Concerns to Ensure Its Appropriate Use by Government Entities,” thesis, San Diego State University, 2012, sdsu-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.10/2583/Chidester_Mindy.pdf?sequence=1.
  8. For more information about how law enforcement can use Twitter and other social media sites, visit IACP’s Center for Social Media at IACPsocialmedia.org.

See Also

  • Homegrown Violent Extremism
  • Online Radicalization
  • Online Services
  • YouTube Violent Extremism
  • Facebook Violent Extremism
  • Violent Extremism

Twitter Violent Extremism: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Twitter Violent Extremism. This part provides references, in relation to Twitter Violent Extremism, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Twitter Violent Extremism by content types:

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Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
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Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Twitter Violent Extremism and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Twitter Violent Extremism or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Twitter Violent Extremism and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Twitter Violent Extremism. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Twitter Violent Extremism should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Twitter Violent Extremism when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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