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Terrorist Influence on Children in Cyberspace

Terrorist Influence on Children in Cyberspace

No. 4, Mar.-Apr. 2017 » DiploMATTERS

Terrorist groups are using cyberspace to propagandize ideological, political and religious concepts, for mutual communication and organization of activities, for planning attacks in the real world and for financing. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegrams have contributed to radicalization and recruitment, primarily of children and young people who accept the principles of terrorists and join their ranks. Modern ways of communication have enabled terrorists to successfully increase membership and their ranks without direct, physical contact. 

Doubled edged swords 

Propaganda contains virtual messages with memetic value, presentations, texts, discussions, audio and video materials.

Access to the Internet is increasingly important for terrorists. As a global medium and communication channel accessible to all, the Internet is important tool which terrorist groups use to indirectly create an important psychological moment of provoking fear and insecurity through cyber space. Propaganda contains virtual messages with memetic value, presentations, texts, discussions, audio and video materials. Virtual domains are a useful and safe ground for various activities of terrorist groups, such as encrypted communication, file sharing, indoctrination and recruitment of vulnerable individuals, fund raising and promotions of their future actions and accomplishments, all the while spreading fear.

Modern ways of communication have given the terrorists the ability to facilitate the organization of their groups.

Modern ways of communication have given the terrorists the ability to facilitate the organization of their groups. Internet and social media platforms secure membership without directly approaching potential recruits across the world as had been the norm until a decade ago. What is more than obvious is that the target groups for recruitment are young adults and, increasingly, children.

Children are recruited in different ways – from direct contact, from propaganda on social media from which they get inspiration and even by playing computer games, which is more than worrying and extremely dangerous.

Footage of war crimes, killing, torture, destruction of state and private property as well as cultural monuments flooded the "global network".

The most prominent terrorist organization, the so-called Islamic State/Daesh, recognized the importance of the Internet as a medium of action. Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria and the creation of Daesh in the territory of Syria and Iraq, the Internet has increasingly become one of the weapons in the hands of terrorists. Footage of war crimes, killing, torture, destruction of state and private property as well as cultural monuments flooded the "global network".

Daesh has revolutionized the use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube channels to distribute their propaganda to a larger circle of people.

Terrorists realized that the young generation is spending a huge amount of time online. The profiles of young people joining Daesh are diverse and differ in their affiliation, religion, family heritage, age, social status, wealth and education. That is why they developed online strategies on social networks. Daesh has revolutionized the use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube channels to distribute their propaganda to a larger circle of people. Placing horrific video and audio recordings, uploading photos, and publishing news, which are available to a global audience, is part of their strategy. The goal is to popularize their principles, especially with the younger population, propagandizing their success to attract followers and instilling a glamour to their activities based on an empowering narrative of struggle which speaks to disaffected and apathetic youth.

The goal is to popularize their principles, especially with the younger population, propagandizing their success to attract followers and instilling a glamour to their activities based on an empowering narrative of struggle which speaks to disaffected and apathetic youth.

Some terrorist groups have made their own online platforms specifically for attracting children and young adults, creating content that is popular and appealing to them. The content is reflected in specially designed propaganda material like texts on blogs for young people, songs, books, photographs, as well as films and documentaries. Hamas for example, on websites such as Al-Fateh, publish cartoons designed for the youngest population with the intention of promoting their ideology from the first years of life. 

Entertainment as a gateway 

Video games are a medium intended for a generation that is "computer-wise, media-heavy and video game addicted". One of the earliest jihadist video games that has attracted worldwide attention came out in 2006, called “Quest for Bush”. The game was created by the Islamic propaganda organization Global Islamic Media Front, close to Al Qaeda.

How far the propaganda machine reaches is highlighted by the fact that terrorist cyber manipulators use computer games to radicalize children and young people. Video games are a medium intended for a generation that is "computer-wise, media-heavy and video game addicted". One of the earliest jihadist video games that has attracted worldwide attention came out in 2006, called “Quest for Bush”, where players are fighting against Americans. The game was created by the Islamic propaganda organization Global Islamic Media Front, close to Al Qaeda. Since then, terrorists have developed games such as “The Stone Thrower”, “Ummah Defense I” and II, “Maze of Destiny” and “The Resistance”.

Daesh used one of the world's most popular video games, "Grand Theft Auto V" (GTA 5) as an inspiration, and made clips of different lengths with small modifications. Game-related changes are that players as Daesh soldiers on the battlefield kill and shoot at US soldiers and attack convoys, with lots of explosions. Videos are distributed via channel IDs on social networks as well as on the Youtube channels and quickly become viral, ie accessible and visible to a large number of people.

Daesh has managed to assimilate a large number of children, young people and teenagers in its ranks not only from the war-torn regions of the Middle East, but from around the world. Daesh differs from other terrorist organizations in terms of transparency when it comes to the training, recruitment and indoctrination of children.

Since then, terrorists have developed games such as “The Stone Thrower”, “Ummah Defense I” and II, “Maze of Destiny” and “The Resistance”.

The success of Daesh in persuading young people from all over the world to join the fight against “unbelievers” shows impressive ability and a developed PR machinery and strategy which, in the long run, support long-term plans and survival strategies. By using cyberspace, Daesh has created a precedent by engaging in a multipronged online presence, with special sites for recruitment, groups and profiles on various social networks, blogs and chat rooms, by publishing an online magazine and manuals. These propaganda and psychological methods have proven to be more than successful.

One of the main goals of the use of the Internet by terrorists is to spread of propaganda in the form of multimedia communication and provides ideological or practical instruction, explanation, justification or promotion of terrorist activities. By using the most popular social networks, they have attracted the attention of various target groups, as well as of the mass media, which highlights key messages and breakthroughs for their novelty value, inadvertently providing more exposure. The active propaganda on social networks has created an attractive narrative about coming to the territory of Syria and Iraq (principally, but also other regions) and joining combat as a "once in a lifetime adventure".

The active propaganda on social networks has created an attractive narrative about coming to the territory of Syria and Iraq (principally, but also other regions) and joining combat as a "once in a lifetime adventure".

By analyzing videos used for recruitment as well as photographs that are set on profiles on numerous social networks, it is noticeable that children were used in most materials. Daesh shares more footage of training children than training adult fighters, sharing pictures of children holding a weapon or simulating attacks and cutting heads off dolls. 

Insufficient countermeasures 

So far, on the global level, different international institutions have failed in carrying out successful research which could provide precise and accurate results of the number of youth from all parts of the world who have left homes and joined the fighting in Syria or are at risk of doing so after communicating with recruiters through social platforms. No systematized, institutionalized research dealing with this issue was conducted in South-Eastern Europe.

Daesh shares more footage of training children than training adult fighters, sharing pictures of children holding a weapon or simulating attacks and cutting heads off dolls.

Since Daesh spreads propaganda via different channels of the Internet, corresponding to technological means as well as target segments, children around the world are exposed to violence and inappropriate materials. Children and pupils of elementary and secondary schools can easily obtain images and video clips in their educational institutions, as well as at home. For children, the content that terrorists place on the Internet is often incomprehensible, worrying, causing panic and a sense of fear. For others, it is an alluring path to radicalization. Therefore, one of the most efficient ways of successfully fighting against Daesh, its copycats and its future inheritors on the Internet should be the inclusion into the educational system of educators who will be able to explain to pupils what these images are and to warn them about the potential consequences.

 
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