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Terrorism Has No Echo without the Media

Terrorism Has No Echo without the Media

Terrorism can be seen as an act of communication. In order to transform an attack into a message, the media’s dissemination capabilities are needed, being a vital pawn in the game the terrorists are playing. Sending the perfect message in the way the terrorist desire is much more important that the act itself. The challenge in the relationship stated is the conflict of interests between the media having to broadcast unbiased information about the event, the social responsibility they carry and the prospect of giving sensational news that may alter the reality in order to have a wider audience. 

Is it media who creates labels about terrorism? 

Mass-media has the power of forming and influencing the public’s opinions and views on the phenomenon of terrorism. The agents of the media are in the posture to create and confirm labels on fundamental topics such as culture, religion and ethnicity. The most common identification they create is confusing terrorists with Muslims, making the general public believe that everyone of this religious affiliation has extremist tendencies. Mass-media makes extremism and radicalism values and beliefs of the Muslim states, the truth being that the Islamic fundamentalist organizations suffer from social marginalization within the very societies to which they belong. The media does not have to share the values of terrorist ideologies but it heavily depends on the free society and the relative vulnerability to the manipulation in front of the terrorist organizations. 

Is terrorism a psychological war? 

The challenge in the relationship stated is the conflict of interests between the media having to broadcast unbiased information about the event, the social responsibility they carry and the prospect of giving sensational news that may alter the reality in order to have a wider audience.

Terrorist propaganda is considered to be a form of persuasive communication[1]. The means of the media are transforming a terrorist attack into a form of psychological war that breeds certain ideas and conceptions in the mind of every individual exposed to it, having a bigger impact the closer they are to the target at the moment of the incident. A systematic broadcast of an extremist kind of thinking may cause sufficient fear and panic to obviate the need for further action, with the public being sufficiently afraid only at the hearing of threats. The terrorists’ objective is to be present as much as they can in the media by capturing the attention and making themselves, their organization and their beliefs well-known, while perceiving an advancement of their goals. The modern link to general Islamic beliefs and practices started with the 9/11 attacks in the collective consciousness. Most of the specialty books written before the 11th of September 2001 had no mentions of Jihad or Islam[2] as defining factors. The popular opinion in this direction begins with Al-Qaida declaring itself responsible for the attack, though its terrorist activities had been extensive, including against the US, even before that time. 

Is terrorism digitalized? 

The relationship between terrorism and mass-media is symbiotic. The terrorists depend on the free publicity they gain for delivering their messages and mass-media benefits from the high ratings following such an event. They are manipulating the public through the means of media, aiming to justify and legitimize their actions in front of the public, whether it is the public with which they have an adversarial relation, or the public which they hope to gain to their side. Internal communication within such an organization is much easier using the internet, allowing them to have a fast and efficient exchange of information while being anonymous. Access to any type of knowledge a terrorist may need is just a click away and far easier than the various “anarchist cookbooks” surreptitiously published in the 1960s, detailing how to produce bombs. The digitalized world is making terrorism an easy solution for extremists to express, advance and advertise their ideologies. Mass-media and the Internet, especially, are catalysts of terrorism. The spread of radical ideologies, even the propaganda of terror, as well as having quick access to information related to planning, contacts for logistics and techniques about bombs and weaponry, all of these are found on different levels of the Internet. Proof of terrorists using the “Dark Web” has been found by the U.S. National Security Agency in 2013 when they intercepted crypted communication between Al-Qaida leaders[3]. Later, on the 15th of November 2015, two days away from the attacks in Paris, ISIS has posted a message with a direct link to their Tor portal, marking the movement of Isdarat on the “Dark Web”. 

Is the Muslim community placed in a “virtual umma”? 

Terrorist propaganda is considered to be a form of persuasive communication

Technology is one of the key factors in the success of terrorism and the Internet is used for multiple purposes: recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, incitement to committing crimes, gathering and disseminating information. Internal communication and transfer of information such as appropriate knowledge and planning are also uses. In contrast to the old media (newspaper, radio and television), in the new media, the terrorists can directly control what is posted, without depending on the journalistic intermediation (within the limits imposed by the international regulations). Oliver Roy places the Muslim community in a “virtual umma”[4]. Based on the common misconceptions, people tend to lump all Muslims together, since the Muslims themselves traditionally see themselves linked in a common community or “umma” based on religious fellow-feeling which should also have a political dimension in keeping with the specific political prescriptions. While few terrorists overtly confirm the cultural stereotypes, the presence of obviously foreign modes of dress and behavior among immigrant or descended Muslim populations mark them in the eyes of the community afflicted by terrorism or the threat of it. Terrorist attacks receive five times more media coverage when the perpetrator is a Muslim[5]. Dark tales are presented by the media since, even though Muslims were responsible for 12.4% of the attacks in the United States in the 2011-2015 period, the media coverage they have received is 41.4% of the total. Still, the methodology of such studies is often debatable since it hinges on accurate designations of terrorist incidents (some being downgraded as “workplace violence” and non-ideological attacks upgraded to terrorism) and on circumstantial considerations. Nevertheless, the audience is perceiving a distorted reality, believing that the religion itself or its mass adherents are a threat. The media has the power to create stereotypes sustain them by cementing them into the minds of people exposed to the news. The media generates two alternatives of judging an attack: one, as an act of war, the other, as a crime[6]. Most of the viewers are mixing those two by visualizing the victims of the attacks as ones of crimes, not war accidents. This thinking leads to individualization of victims and grouping the perpetrators with their wider community, wandering away from reality. 

Is media the oxygen for terrorism? 

Technology is one of the key factors in the success of terrorism and the Internet is used for multiple purposes.

Terrorism and mass-media evolved in a symbiosis, each benefiting from the others’ capabilities and actions. Mass-media can exist without terrorism, but the latter cannot survive without the international echo and the impact provided by the media’s distribution channels or the platforms on the Internet. The way media decides to address the subject of terrorism can influence the way people are perceiving the phenomenon and each attack, but also the intensity of its manifestation.


[1] Martin, L. J. (2012). The Media's Role in International Terrorism. Maryland: College of Journalism, University of Maryland.

[2] Canter, D. (2009). The Multi-Faceted Nature of Terrorism: An Introduction.

[3] Weimann, G. (2016). Terrorist Migration to the Dark Web. Retrieved from Terrorism Analysts:

[4] Roy, O. (2004). Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press.

[5] Kentish, B. (2017). Terror attacks receive five times more media coverage if perpetrator is Muslim, study finds. Retrieved from The Independent:

[6] Edy, J., & Meirick, P. (2007). Wanted, Dead or Alive: Media Frames, Frame Adoption, and Support for the War in Afghanistan. Journal of Communication.



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