Global Terrorism: How The ‘Internet’ Makes The World More Vulnerable and Unsafe

Ebenezer Makinde
20% Complete
 26-Apr-2019

Terrorism is an aged-long phenomenon that has taken an international dimension, threatens democracy, global peace and of course development. The harm inflicted or the fear incited by terrorist movements have implications across national boundaries. In 2019 alone, about 693 terrorist attacks have taken place all over the world with over 3000 fatalities (storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks).

According to 2018 Global Terrorism Index, though world terrorist attacks are generally subsiding, the threats of terrorism still remain largely potent and devastating. In the 2018 report of Global Terrorism Index, deaths attributed to terrorism worldwide fell for the third consecutive year, decreasing by 27 percent. Of course, about 18, 814 people still lost their lives to terrorism in 2018 alone.

Globalization has helped shaped the world to become a better place. Long before now, Marshall McLuhan had predicted the interconnectedness of the world societies which according to him would be as a result of the revolution in the information communication technology.

With globalization and the internet, problems and prospects in a particular country now have significant effects and consequences on far away countries. Also, particularly instructive is the role of the continued interconnectedness of different socieities in exacerbating the extent and magnitude of the challenges of the current international system.

It is now increasingly difficult for a problem to be confined within the narrow space of a nation state. The butterfly effect has taken hold of the international system. So much so that a butterfly flapping its wings in Honolulu can have a devastating effects in Sucre. This is true for climate change and its effects, terrorism, insurgency and other major challenges confronting the international system. As we have it today, terrorism has attracted new trends which makes its effects and consequences global in their reaches.

Generally, it is not the number of deaths as a result of terrorism in our world that tell all the stories, but the fear impelled on the general population by the terrorist attacks. So when deaths associated to terror attacks reduce, it is not for the world governments to be complacent, but to put more efforts to ensure that the menace is further reduce to the minimal level possible.

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Apparently, terrorist groups and movements have political gains or objectives that they seek to achieve and their strategies and methods of attacks are structured in a way to create the necessary conditions through fear to achieve such objectives.

Nobody can say with certainty why terrorist groups strike at each particular point or the immediate cause of such terrorist attack. More often than not, it is more illuminating to analyse each terror attack uniquely without assuming that the previous ones are connected to the current ones as they occur. However, the general objectives of different terrorist groups and organizations have been isolated and identified over the years.

Of course this has influenced the categorization of terrorist groups based on their espoused objectives. It is not uncommon for a terrorist group to be described as religious or Islamic, separatist, ethnocentric or nationalistic, revolutionary,political, and domestic. These categories serve to distinguish one terrorist organization from other ones. And more importantly, it offers a kind of solidarity among different but similar terrorist groups all over the world. It is in the light of this that Boko Haram can pledge allegiance to ISIS for example.

Such overreaching influences of terrorist groups have made them more potent especially in our contemporary world where globalization occasioned by the revolution in the information technology and access to the internet have made different far away countries connected.

The Unintended Role of the Internet in Terror Attacks and Political Violence

When different writers and theorists write and theorize on globalization and the revolution in the information technology which have generally engendered a “global village” kind of international system, they probably did not envisage the kind of deadly role globalization is currently playing on the overall security of the international system. It is more like the international system is becoming less safe because of inter-connectedness.

Sometimes, the connection or relationship is difficult to identify but recent happenings in the international system have indeed show that perhaps globalization is beginning to have unintended implications not only on terrorism and insurgency, but also on all other forms of political violence. The recent terror attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka are particularly instructive especially in the light of our current discussion.

This is truer for lone terrorist actor as it is for organized terrorism. As the current evidence has shown especially in relations to the terrorist attacks in New Zealand where over 50 people were killed, individuals are now being radicalized even without any slight interactions with any established terrorist organizations or movements. To over simplify the matter, an individual can in fact become a terrorist even by staying in his or her room. It is very possible to be radicalized by what you read online.

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The internet over the years has been overwhelmed by contents that can in fact influenced terrorist attacks by merely reading them. Of course, many of them are propaganda or sometimes fake news, but they have continued to play critical roles in influencing terrorist attacks especially in the recent times as globalization and revolution in information technology continued to render national boundary useless and meaningless. The Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida in 2016 that killed about 48 people is an apt example of what an unregulated access to the internet can indeed cause. Yet the beauty of the worldwide web is absence of restriction.

It has been said that Omar Mateen the man that carried out the 2016 nightclub terror attacks in Florida was simply radicalized by vast contents produced by ISIS on the internet. The perpetrator never really met with anyone in ISIS, yet he furthered the interests of a terrorist group dominant in Syria while living in the US and not being a formal member of the organization.

What motivated the man that killed about 50 people in New Zealand on March 15, 2019 was also a large chunk of information available on the internet. Tarrant Brenton was said to have tapped into a large library of white nationalist material on the internet from every parts of the world. He did post his reasons for the attacks on the same internet after the deeds had been done. Not to mention the fact that he live-streamed one of the two attacks on his Facebook page. He was also furthering the objectives and interests of an organization whose representatives he never probably met in his life.

More so, the success of the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on 21st of April, 2019 which left about 300 people dead cannot be said to not have been contributed to by the internet. In recent times, social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter have been identified as instruments for inciting violence. For example, India has particularly indicted Whatsapp for inciting violence in 2018 in the country.

The announcement by the Sri Lanka government that it has banned access to the internet in the meantime, specifically access to the social media platforms reiterate and emphasize the believe whether explicitly true or not that the social media and the internet have a way of influencing terrorist attacks and inciting political violence. Of course, the government of Sri Lanka did claim that the decision was due to perceived effects of the social media on the crisis that erupted in the country in April, 2018; a situation they did not want to repeat itself in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.

Positive sides of Access to the Internet and social media during Emergencies

Above, we have painted a gloomy side of globalization especially the ICT and the internet in the light of their roles in engendering terrorism and political violence. But is globalization all that bad within the context of our current discussion? Indeed, an individual could be indoctrinated by contents available on the social media, the internet has proven to be extremely effective in curtailing the extent of terrorist attacks and emergencies generally.

It has been said that social media and the internet does transform the way people respond to emergencies. Basically, during emergencies, the internet can serve as a platform where people can access information on how to react and avoid the negative consequences of such emergencies.

Also, it is not all internet induced political violence that can be tagged to be negative. The impacts of the 2011 Arab Springs which was largely successful because of the internet cannot be overemphasized. From the perspective of the common people, the internet can be said to have been put to good use, of course even when the conditions that necessitated the Arab Springs have since transposed themselves.

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Perhaps more massive is the fact that when put to good use, the internet can in fact serve as a medium for preempting political violence and terror attacks. For it is expected that many of these terror attacks and violence are coordinated through the internet space. It is therefore a matter of improved intelligence gathering abilities of different governments of the world.

We know that the internet has become an instrument for terrorist movements to organize, recruit and spread propaganda in a bid to achieve their objectives, it is possible to use these technologies in the opposite direction by the government to identify terrorists or potential terrorists as the case maybe. Or to forestall and halt terror attacks before they even occur.

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