Scientific developments and the ease of access to various communication technologies for a wide-ranging audience beyond borders have made almost boundless prospects for broadcast and digital information. Since its inception, the internet has empowered the introduction of numerous platforms for mass communication, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and other social media outlets. Not surprisingly, among the billions of users worldwide, we also find terrorist organisations. In early years of the 21st century, it was publically understood that the online activities of terrorists were confined to the process of radicalisation. However, activities and incidents in recent years have revealed the fact that various radical groups and individuals are playing an extensive role in the recruitment and planning of terrorist activities. The world community in general, Pakistan in particular, has tried to diminish the physical contact between the member of a terrorist group and a potential new recruit. Therefore, those extremist elements shifted their strategies from those involving physical contact to those involving virtual contact with a potential new recruit.
Highlighting this phenomenon for the first time, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (NDRE) published a comprehensive report in 2006 titled ‘Jihadism online’. The report concluded that the online activities of terrorists were increasing but that there was no evidence of the direct recruitment of jihadists through the internet. However, 99.8 percent of terrorism activities including recruitment through inspiration and motivational videos were revealed by the Dutch Intelligence Service in 2012. The same source revealed that when individuals keenly participate in online debates on features of the extremists’ narrative, jihadist recruiters can get information from these individuals. Later, they can contact them through vague online identities and further motivate them for jihad. However, scholars are unable to find the motivation behind the first appearance in chat-rooms concerning radical discussions but they consider Facebook and other social media outlets as the most vulnerable and easily accessed sources for such activities in underdeveloped countries.
It was believed that the process towards radicalisation developed gradually and would take several years. However, the most recent case studies, particularly in the wake of Islamic State (IS) and its recruitment activities in Europe, offered different experiences to study. The process of youth radicalisation in European countries and their recruitment in IS has been occurring within a very short period overwhelmingly based on the group’s motivational social media campaigns.
There are approximately 25 million social media users in Pakistan. Unfortunately, numerous banned extremist and militant organisations, and their sympathisers, specifically religious propagators, use these social media outlets for the targeting of vulnerable youth to stimulate radicalisation with smartly crafted messages and fancy videos. These extremist elements use this media outlet for numerous purposes, including to celebrate their successes and to inspire vulnerable minds by sharing the stories of their heroic acts in the battlefield. The propaganda also includes fake pictures of carnage and the martyrdom of “Musalmaan bhai” (Islamic brothers) to grab more sympathy from their potential recruits. In this regard, their propaganda cells use fake pictures and videos with emotional background jihadi songs. This propaganda campaign was very intensive in nature during the early months of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.
Likewise, since 2012, political parties in Pakistan have also started using Facebook for the strengthening of their narrative. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) initiated the use of Facebook for the spread of its political narrative. Subsequently, various political parties followed the PTI in this narrative building campaign. Though social media has introduced various new political trends in political parties, it has increased the level of political radicalization, which could be detrimental for the democratic process.
Similarly, the debate over culture and traditions has also been intensifying with the passage of time by social media users. For instance, the most recent debate of gay marriages been legalised in every state in the US bombarded social media for several days in Pakistan. The intensive and furious debates between liberals and traditionalists in Pakistan highlighted a wider social and cultural gap. The issue of identity and social norms is leading Pakistani youth towards two extreme sides. It is not only creating a psychological gap but is also providing excuses to violent extremists or jihadist elements to propagate their version of Islam. Therefore, it is a dire need that the government strictly monitor the use of cyber-technology in order to stop the radicalisation process in Pakistan through social media.
[Daily Times August 25, 2015].
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not reflective of IPRI policy.