Terrorist Better At Targeting Online Audience

    November 16, 2007

Islamist militants are getting better at gearing their message online to specific audiences including women and children according to a meeting hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Gabriel Weimann

"One of the most alarming trends we found on the Internet recently is what we call ‘narrowcasting’," said Gabriel Weimann, professor of communications at the University of Haifa in Israel which monitors 5,800 militant Web sites.

Weimann said terrorist’s goal is not to reach the largest Internet audience but to slice the audience into segments and target each with specific tactics. "Terrorists are using the Internet to focus on children, very young children, to attract young people to the ideology and later to the way of terrorism."

"When they target children, they do everything any commercial advertiser would do. They use comic books, storytelling, graphics, movies, competitions, prize-winning and so on," Weimann added.

Weimann said al Qaeda was focusing on women by using an online manual displayed in pink, which educates them in the roles of a female suicide bomber.

On how to combat such tactics Mohamed Bin Ali, an expert from Singapore said," It is important to produce counter-Web sites. If they produce one Web site, we need another Web site to counter that."

Johnny Ryan of the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin said governments did not have the resources and online skills to counter the battle on the Web. He said community and religious leaders, scholars and the public should fill that role.

"If there are fallacies in the simple narrative of ‘the West has been against Islam for hundreds of years’ then you have to educate the public. And it is the public on the Internet who should then counter the message," he said.

The European Commission has proposed that its member states should make it a criminal offense to encourage terrorism over the Internet or to use it for militant recruitment and training.

Counter-terrorism official in the United States say that freedom of speech laws prevent them from closing down such sites and point out that they would surface in another place. Also having the sites open allows security officials to monitor the sites so they get insight into what the groups are thinking.

Weimann said different sites require different strategies. He said some sites should be monitored, some should be hacked because they teach how to use weapons and explosives, and some should be blocked.