1. Building Websites
According to a federal government white paper prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, there were a total of just 12 terrorist websites active in 1998. With the rise of the internet, that number has risen to nearly 7,000 active terrorist sites.
2. Using Social Media
According to a 2012 United Nations report, terrorists distribute their content using a wide range of social tools. These include their websites, but also chat rooms, online message boards, forums, magazines such as al-Qaeda’s Inspire, and social platforms including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, RapidShare, and other sites. The report notes that indexing of these materials by search engines makes them easily findable for prospective recruits. The screenshot above is the Twitter account of the Somali-based terrorist organization Al Shabaab.
3. Targeting Prospective Recruits
The Department of Homeland Security cites three ways young people find sites to become radicalized: browsing for entertainment; searching for a community to belong to; looking for information related to heritage, traditions, or ideologies associated with a particular radical group. Knowing this, terrorists are able to tailor their efforts to find the most likely recuits.
Terrorist propaganda on sites is often meant to target these groups. By targeting both susceptible and marginalized members of society, terrorists exploit individuals’ feelings of loneliness, weakness, shame, or need for belonging. These can be shifted to target specific genders, age groups, economic classes, or ethnicities.
4. Indoctrinating Children with Cartoons
Both Hamas, through its website Al Fateh, and al-Qaeda have attempted to recruit children using Disney-style animated videos. Al Fateh’s website uses these cartoons to advocate violence against Israel and the glory of martyrdom. In 2011, the AP reported that an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen released a short film featuring “Disney-like” cartoons in which young boys dressed in battle fatigues participated in terrorist plots and raids. Hamas’ website even has GIFs of cartoon animals.
5. Repeating Clear, Simple Messages and Talking Points
Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown professor formerly of the RAND Corporation, says there are three core messages terrorists drive home on their websites during recruitment: that the West is extremely aggressive and threatening toward Islam; that the only way to address the West’s threat is through violence; and that because of these two things, the only option to counter the West is jihad.
6. Communicating Through Streaming Video
Grassroots-level jihadists have been cited as the largest category of cyber extremists, including both active jihadists and passive supporters. Messages from leaders like Osama bin Laden help rally these communities. While these videos may only use one-way communication, other lesser figures can participate in chat rooms and issuing fatwas online, according to a report from Hanna Rogan of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
7. Online Video Games
Islamic terrorist groups have released video games online to appeal to teens and young adults. Hezbollah released the games Special Force and Special Force 2, which depict themselves fighting the Israeli military. The Global Islamist Media Front, in association with al-Qaeda, released the Quest for Bush game online. The game, aimed at children, gave them the goal of killing then-President George W. Bush.
8. Instructing Future Recruits How to Carry Out Attacks
With the rise of the internet, terrorists find themselves being able to use the online world as a new virtual training ground. Terrorists can instruct potential recruits on how to build explosives, how to execute specific terrorist attacks, how to obtain firearms, how to join a terrorist organization, and how to build additional non-explosive dangerous material.