Research Headlines – Deconstructing the terrorism discourse on social media

Although social media has infiltrated our daily lives and become a powerful tool it is not always put to good use. EU-funded research is looking at how the Islamic State group has used social media to promote the terrorist agenda and attract followers – and aims to shape policy to counter this movement.

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Social media use has increased dramatically over the past decade and is now a major source of information and influence. Used legitimately, it is a vital tool for communication. Unfortunately, it can help groups and individuals with less positive intentions to promote violent ideologies, create confusion and spread fear among the general public.

The EU-funded MWDIR project has spent two years investigating how the ideology of Islamic radicalism is being legitimised and spread through social media content. In particular, lead researcher Mohammedwesam Amer has focused on the terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS) to determine why its ideas are so persuasive for certain demographics in Western countries and how this leads to the radicalisation of young people in the EU and worldwide.

Amer argues that the development and accessibility of social media has helped IS and other terrorist, extremist and radical movements expand their reach to a wide range of audiences around the world.

‘We set out to examine IS’ social media strategies, practices and presence on the internet,’ he explains. ‘Our analysis should help raise awareness of how social media is being used for the radicalisation of certain populations and the legitimation of the terrorist discourse. Through a better understanding of the strategies used, both technologically and in terms of rhetorical devices, we can also better inform policy to counter this phenomenon.’

Amer adds that ‘the more we analyse and understand terrorist organisations’ presence and ideological discourses on social media, the more effective ways we can find to counter the kind of terrorist propaganda that may lead to violent actions against innocent people in Europe and all over the world.’

The research is funded by the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship programme.

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