By Robin Valeri And Kevin Borgeson
The FBI recently reported that the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, had been radicalized and that they were investigating ties to foreign terrorist groups. Prior to the shooting, Malik had pledged allegiance to ISIS in an Internet message and, shortly after the shootings, followers of ISIS were celebrating it on Twitter. It should come as no surprise that the terrorists are using the Internet and social media for the same reasons we do: to provide fast and inexpensive means to share information with a worldwide audience.
Terrorists use social media to post their views, announce their intentions and brag about their accomplishments. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist and shooter at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, maintained a website in which he posted photos of himself with white supremacist symbols as well as a manifesto. In the manifesto Roof discussed being influenced by information on the Internet from the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Northwest Front.
Terrorist organizations maintain Web pages and blogs and use social media to promote their cause, convert people to their extremist ideologies, recruit adherents and provide information on the “how to” for terrorist actions. We have all read the news stories of girls being recruited online and traveling to, or attempting to travel to, Syria to marry ISIS fighters and join the caliphate. Most of us know ISIS and al-Qaida publish online English magazines targeting Westerners with the hopes of converting people to their extremist beliefs. Unfortunately, as was seen with the recent shootings in San Bernardino, the military recruiting stations in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon bombing, these terrorist organizations are having some success at not only converting people to their extremist ideologies but also inspiring them to take action in their own communities.
We, the advocates of freedom, democracy, equality and free speech, need to become as savvy at using the Internet, blogs and social media to promote our views and counter those of the terrorists. We need to explain the value of freedom, the benefits of democracy, and why free speech, tolerance, the equality of women and the education of all are necessary to achieve these. Otherwise, as is clearly demonstrated by ISIS and al-Qaida, power and knowledge in the hands of only a few results in a totalitarian regime in which a religion is bastardized and the masses are exploited and manipulated for the benefit of a few people living lifestyles counter to the beliefs they espouse.
Robin Valeri is chairwoman of the Department of Psychology at St. Bonaventure University. Kevin Borgeson is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Salem State University in Salem, Mass.