Terrorist Use of the Internet for Radicalization and Communication: Counter-Terrorism Organizations’ Lack of Understanding

Much has been written on the subject as to how terrorist organizations use the Internet. It wasn’t long after the “net” became accessible to the world that extremists started capitalizing on the opportunity to more effectively run their operations. Speedier communications, hidden global financial transactions, and more efficient tactics are just a few of the major categories listed by experts when researching the issue. Counter-terrorist organizations have done a fair job of responding to these issues. However, the singular area where they always seem to be playing “catch up” is in the realm of radicalization. There is a wholesale lack of understanding by counter-terrorist organizations as to how effective online radicalization is and, as a result, protection against this phenomenon is lagging significantly. In order to understand how effective online radicalization is, one must first understand how the psychology behind it works and why it is so important.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism publishes an annual report (2013) that tells us why private citizens “have a dog in this fight” and why we should be giving extremists more respect for intelligence and creativity. This group, based at the University of Maryland, provides statistical background on terrorist activity around the world. The report “Annex of Statistical Information: Country Reports on Terrorism 2012” details types of attacks, countries in which attacks took place, the annual number of casualties and fatalities resulting from terrorism, and types of weapons, or methodology used, in the attacks. For example, the Taliban, which has received most of our military attention over the past decade (not to mention the financial attention), was responsible for 525 total attacks in 2012. That number will be dwarfed by the current activity from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, which has also been responsible for beheading two Americans and two British nationals over the past few months. In 2012, when the report was published, ISIL hadn’t even conducted half the attacks the Taliban was credited with. In other words, they were a “B” player.

Tune in to CSPAN on any day they are broadcasting congressional testimony on counter-terrorism efforts and the leadership of the NSA, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security are lining up to tell us everything is under control and they are doing a great job, but of course they need more money. What I am saying here is, according to the statistics in this report, things aren’t exactly under control. Religious extremism is growing at warp speed and our current approach, our current counter-terrorism paradigm, just isn’t keeping up. Recently, many news organizations have reported a record number of British nationals being radicalized over the Internet and traveling to Syria to support the ISIL cause. This phenomenon is also playing out in the United States in a more marked fashion than ever before. Why should we care? After all, these are just armies fighting armies right? Wrong, according to The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism study -in 2012, almost 28% of terrorist targets were private citizens and property.

The pioneer of the thought that there is psychology behind the use of the blogosphere for radicalization is Dr. Gabriel Weimann (2008), a professor at Haifa University, in Israel. One of the most prolific authors on the subject of use of the Internet by terrorists, he delves in to not only how the Internet is used by extremists to achieve their aims, but why as well. Very few experts on the topic address this aspect of Internet psychology by extremists. Weimann, due to his longevity and experience in the field, is able to provide credible, historical anecdotes regarding al Qaeda’s longest producing website and other terrorist activities. For example, back in the early 2000’s, al Qaeda put up their first productive website, alneda.com. They created a fictitious organization called the Center for Islamic Studies and Research, gave it a false Venezuelan address, and added a free Hotmail email account. The group then wired $87 through a Malaysian bank to pay the annual fee. It was that easy. For less than a hundred dollars they tapped into a worldwide audience and accessed the most virulent terrorist-making machine in the history of the mankind.

Weimann, in “The Psychology of Mass-Mediated Terrorism,” (2008) refers to Albert Bandura’s theory of selective moral disengagement (normalizing and distancing oneself from one’s own violent behavior) which, in his opinion, is required in order to perform the acts of atrocity commonplace in terror groups. According to Weimann, “Social cognitive theory attempts to explain how individuals who are engaged in aberrant behavior can justify their activities…people tend to refrain from behaving in ways that violate their moral standards. People do not usually engage in harmful conduct until they have justified, to themselves, the morality of their actions” (p. 78). In other words, the basic functioning of the Internet, the images, the audio, the concise messages, speed the process of normalizing the monstrous behavior behind the message of jihad. It conveys the message that killing people in the name of jihad is not only acceptable, but it is normal behavior.

The compelling aspect of this theory is the idea that terrorist organizations use, and have been using, the Internet in a much more subversive and effective way than counter-terrorist organizations have credited them with and, as a result, the defense of this radicalization is lagging greatly. It is interesting to note that Dr. Weimann published this report in 2008 and this subliminal nature of Internet radicalization is still not widely discussed.

But, what do I really mean when I say there is a deeper story to Internet radicalization? Nicholas Carr, in his seminal work The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains (2010), makes a strong argument as to how and why the Internet, or use of the Internet by extremists, can be compelling people to become radicalized and run off to jihad war at a record pace. Carr posits the theory that the Internet, or perhaps technology in general, is changing the way human beings think and act. Much scientific research has been written on the subject of the formation of neural pathways in the learning process. However, it’s not just the formation of brain pathways that matter; it’s the changing of the pathways. Scientists have learned, over the past few decades, the human brain has plasticity. According to Carr, “Recent discoveries about neuroplasticity tell us that the tools man has used to support or extend his nervous system – all those technologies (i.e. language, printing press, television) that through history have influenced how we find, store, and interpret information, how we direct our attention and engage our senses, how we remember and how we forget – have shaped the physical structure and workings of the human mind” (p. 48). Said differently, the brain changes, or adapts, to different inputs and changes in environments. In this case, the input is the ever-present, all consuming Internet.

Carr infers, and provides plenty of evidence, that those established neural pathways are now being rewired so as to receive information differently than in the past; faster, shorter, more dense transmission due to the use of the Internet. He insists, for example, that frequent users of the Internet are no longer capable of “deep reading” subjects because the Net has trained our brains to desire information delivery more efficiently. The opening chapters of The Shallows describe the impact different communication mediums (i.e. books, movies, the Internet) have when delivering information to the human brain. His theory is that the Internet is changing the way our brain processes information, and it makes sense.

For example, as a young child, I was a science fiction fanatic. My parents could not understand why I spent so much time reading “that trash.” But, who can forget what we did as children when books went to the big screen? The first time I saw Star Trek on television, I was captivated. Before the afternoon was over, my buddies and I were outside play-acting the characters on the screen. We had never done that before but, all of a sudden, with this new medium, our tiny brains were able to visualize what science fiction was supposed to look like and we acted it out.

This is exactly what Carr is referring to with his theory. A new medium has come along, in this case the Internet, and people have progressed from role-playing to actual bombings in the name of jihad. They no longer have to “pretend” because their behavior is “normalized,” according to the communities they frequent on the Internet, and they can visualize what it is supposed to be. It is an already short step from reading about it to acting it out, and the Internet further shortened that step immensely. As counter-terrorism agencies seem to be focused on the tactical nature of use of the Internet by extremists, such as communications and financial transactions, they are missing the psychological weapon of radicalization causing the most harm. The uncensored messages coming through the Internet are showing people on the fringes of society how to behave.

The European Policy Planners Network on Countering Radicalisation and Polarisation (PPN), a consortium of governmental agencies, commissioned the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) to study the problem (2011). In its working paper, the ISD flatly asserts that counter-terrorist organizations are only in the early stages of clearly understanding the role of the Internet in radicalization. They also bring additional data to light regarding the use of social media to bring more women to the Islamic jihadist cause. Many people are surprised to read the recent news of women travelling around the world to join the extremists in their cause. Certainly, some of these women are taking traditional roles in these organizations by marrying fighters, but there has also been an increase in the number of female bombers. The report reinforces the theory that terrorists are using Internet technology to normalize and moralize violent behavior. According to the ISD, “The Internet is an important part of the radicalization process in most cases, intensifying and accelerating radicalization. It can provide the user with the information they are looking for to confirm their beliefs” (p. 3). The constant bombardment of this imagery, combined with the supporting message of a religious cause or a holy war, is changing how people, both male and female, become associated with extremism. In many cases, face-to-face contact is no longer needed as the Internet is serving as a very efficient surrogate. Tied together with Carr’s theory of the rewiring of the brain’s neural pathways, it is easy to understand there is more at work here than just people watching movies on the Internet.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that terrorists are living in caves and spending all their time practicing how to shoot an AK-47. But nothing could be further from the truth. Although Dr. Marie Wright’s report, “Technology & Terrorism: How the Internet Facilitates Radicalization” (2008) is a little dated to anchor this paper, it has been included for a very specific reason. Wright is a professor of Management Information Systems at Connecticut State University (lifetime distinguished professor appointment) and has been writing on Internet security issues since the mid 1990’s. In this report, published in The Forensic Examiner, she details specific types of technology attacks terrorists have used for many years, providing historical data which clearly indicates advanced understanding of the Internet many years before large organizations in developed economies started to implement safeguards for prevention. Written in 2008, Wright details, “Two types of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks have been favored by the Islamic attackers. The first is message flooding, where a targeted Web server is overwhelmed with incoming data packets, causing network performance to slow down to an unacceptable level or stop altogether…” (p. 3). If that type of attack doesn’t sound familiar it should, because it is the exact strategy used to take down the servers at JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and many other large banks in 2012 and again in 2014. In case you are missing the point – terrorists, those guys in caves, used this strategy first way back in 2007 according to Dr. Wright. Extremists have understood the power of the Internet almost since its inception and counter-terrorism organizations are just now starting to catch up.

The bottom line is extremist groups are far more advanced in the deployment of Internet technology than they are being credited with. Whether it is the type of attack, as in the Denial-of-Service attacks against financial institutions, or the psychological aspect of radicalization, counter-terrorist organizations need to start giving credit where credit is due and get caught up in defense.

References

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2013, May). Annex of statistical information: Country reports on terrorism 2012 (Rep.). Retrieved September 18, 2014, from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=737481

Radicalisation: The role of the Internet (Working paper). (2011). London: Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Retrieved September 16, 2014, from https://www.counterextremism.org/resources/details/id/11/ppn-working-paper-radicalisation-the-role-of-the-internet

Weimann, G. (2008). The psychology of mass-mediated terrorism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(1), 69-86. doi:10.1177/0002764208321342

Wright, M. (2008). Technology & terrorism: How the Internet facilitates radicalization. The Forensic Examiner, 17(4), 14-20.

Book Review – Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Every now and then, two superheroes get together and, instead of beating up villains, they write a book. A book without colorful costumes and Wham! Bam! Pow! Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, the Batman and Robin in the world of high-tech, have collaborated on Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think (2013). One would have to search far and wide to find a couple of guys with more “street cred” than these two. Mayer-Schönberger is the Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the University of Oxford Internet Institute. He was practically born into the technology industry. Back in the mid 1980’s, when the Internet was just really ramping up, he founded his first data security software company. Later, he would develop the best-selling software product in Austria. Cukier is the Data Editor for The Economist. His writings have been featured in a Who’s Who list of all the major hitters: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the list goes on and on. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and, as we well know, you don’t just pay your dues and show up for their meetings.
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think is, at its core, a good introduction to the exciting, and developing, field of data analysis using all the data available on a subject as opposed to data samples. The book is chock full of interesting anecdotes about organizations that have used big data successfully. It reads like a novel and, early on, the reader gets the sense that Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier are really excited about what big data will do for the world. The first 150 pages explain the fundamental aspects of how big data works and leads off with a story of Google utilizing Internet word searches to track the spread of the flu, which was eventually parlayed into a tool public health officials used to help manage the H1N1 crisis. As the book progresses, the authors provide more and more examples of successful implementation of big data projects by companies such as Capital One, Bank of America, Visa, and governmental organizations as well. It isn’t until well into the book, towards the end in fact, that they finally reveal some of the dangers the propagation of big data could bring to society.
Even superheroes have baggage, and Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier are no exception. They bring a biased, tech-loving microscope to the issue of big data and, unfortunately, rely too heavily on anecdotes resulting in a complete lack of factual science. Dr. Edward Tenner (2014), with the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy, in a piece for The American said it best, “Ironically, the great strength of the big data movement now is the kind of anecdotal evidence and advocacy rhetoric that it seeks to replace. There are no big data about big data.” In other words, we are so early on in the science of studying big data, there really aren’t any big data studies to prove its usefulness on a pragmatic basis. The book would have benefited greatly by presenting some hard, factual numbers to illustrate big data’s worth. There are also some recurring themes that seem to be bantered about by technology acolytes. The authors briefly speak of the value of the data individual users provide to companies via the Internet (p. 147). They boldly state that there may be so much value to that data that, perhaps, people should be paid for it. Interestingly enough, this exact theory was espoused by Jaron Lanier (2013) in an interview with Steve Paikin on The Agenda. It would appear somebody is a fan of somebody else’s work.
Ultimately, this book does provide an emotional road trip into the world of big data possibilities, both good and bad, and is certainly worth the investment of time if somebody is looking for a basic overview of the science. However, for the more advanced student of algorithms, there are better ways to spend your day. Perhaps studying correlations on the Internet would provide more useful information and a few laughs to boot.

References

Lanier, J. (2013, July 12). Jaron Lanier: Who owns the future? [Interview by S. Paikin]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdEuII9cv-U

Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tenner, E. (2014, July 30). Big data: Here to stay, but with caveats. American.com. Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://www.american.com/archive/2014/july/big-data-here-to-stay-but-with-caveats-1

Reading Response 5

Opportunities abound in the world of technology, the Internet, open-architecture, and collaboration. Clay Shirky (2014), an Assistant Arts Professor and Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University (NYU), is almost boisterous in his perception of the creativity and success that comes about when formerly somewhat disparate individuals can now collaborate in an open environment to forward ideas from concept to fruition. To borrow a phrase from former Secretary of State Hillary Cinton, he loves the thought that it takes a village to raise an idea. However, opportunity is a well-balanced term. One can have a great opportunity, or one can possess an opportunity to do something that turns out to be bad, as in the case of plagiarism. Hollis Phelps (2014) feels a sense of loss as one of his long-time academic heroes, Slavoj Žižek, is caught up in the web of stolen ideas when it is discovered that he gets too comfortable putting forth another academic’s thoughts as his own. These readings certainly illustrate one very important fact; in a free-flowing forum of ideas, where more thought, and more conversation, can take place than ever before in the history of the world, it is critical that we develop and understand “rules of the road” for staying out of each others’ way on the highway of ideas.
It is hard to argue with the enthusiasm Shirky brings to the conversation when he lovingly observes people working together to foster an idea. Medgar Evers, the famous African American civil rights activist wisely said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” You get the sense that, if Evers were alive today, Shirky would love to carry his bags. That is certainly the positive side of technology and, as I said, it’s hard not to see it.
But then we step into the mud puddle of idea theft and things get murky. Phelps goes a long way toward excusing Žižek’s behavior (although he says he does not), and I just cannot buy it. The copout, “To be blunt: it’s simply impossible for someone who keeps Žižek’s schedule, which includes various appointments and a rigorous, international lecturing schedule, to singlehandedly read and research broadly and publish as much as he does,” falls flat to me. It begs the question, if Žižek really isn’t the person, or the subject matter expert, that he purports to be, then why does he represent himself as such? In other words, if one cannot find the time to generate all that work without stealing from other people, then why imply that you can? Why infer to the world that you are capable of producing all that original thought – or at least giving proper credit where it is due? Is it simply because, as Phelps alleges, that is what academia expects of Žižek?
All of this, however, makes me wonder about my workday and the expectations of my, and many others, employers. All day long I see data that is published and bantered about by what is more than likely forty or fifty different sources. Economic news reports, pricing articles, New York Mercantile Exchange quotes, and headline news from services like CNN and CNBC clutter my day. At the end of every day, I am expected to make sense of all of this and recap the day’s events for our corporate executive team. In order to properly cite the source of every data point, price, and news tidbit, it would require a staff of 2 or 3 employees. My point is, there is a very clear delineation between the worlds of business and academia. Certainly I understand I am not publishing my thoughts for public consumption, but it still seems logical that much of that information is coming from a person, or a service, that created it with their resources. How does one give proper attribution to them for their hard work? More importantly, why are we not expected to in the business world? Conversely, why are the expectations so high in academia?

References

The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky [Interview by McKinsey&Company]. (2014, March). Retrieved September 28, 2014, from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/The_disruptive_power_of_collaboration_An_interview_with_Clay_Shirky?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1403

Phelps, H. (2014, July 17). Žižek, plagiarism and the lowering of expectations. Insidehighered.com. Retrieved September 28, 2014, from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/07/17/žižek-plagiarism-and-lowering-expectations-essay

Literature Review

Terrorist Use of the Internet for Radicalization and Communication: Counter-Terrorism Organizations’ Lack of Understanding

Much has been written on the subject as to how terrorist organizations use the Internet. It wasn’t long after the “net” became accessible to the world that extremists started capitalizing on the opportunity to more effectively run their operations. Speedier communications, hidden global financial transactions, and more efficient tactics are just a few of the major categories listed by experts when researching the issue. Counter-terrorist organizations have done a fair job of responding to these issues. However, the singular area where they always seem to be playing “catch up” is in the realm of radicalization. There is a wholesale lack of understanding by counter-terrorist organizations as to how effective online radicalization is and, as a result, protection against this phenomenon is lagging significantly.

The pioneer of the thought that there is psychology behind the use of the blogosphere for radicalization is Gabriel Weimann (2008), a professor at Haifa University, in Israel. One of the most prolific authors on the subject of use of the Internet by terrorists, he delves in to not only how the Internet is used by extremists to achieve their aims, but why as well. Very few experts on the topic address this aspect of Internet psychology by extremists. Weimann, due to his longevity and experience in the field, is able to provide credible, historical anecdotes regarding al Qaeda’s longest producing website and other terrorist activities. This report gives much detail on the rhetoric used on terrorist websites and, very importantly, Albert Bandura’s theory of selective moral disengagement which, in Weimann’s opinion, is required in order to perform the acts of atrocity commonplace in terror groups. According to Weimann, “Social cognitive theory attempts to explain how individuals who are engaged in aberrant behavior can justify their activities…people tend to refrain from behaving in ways that violate their moral standards. People do not usually engage in harmful conduct until they have justified, to themselves, the morality of their actions” (p. 78). Weimann’s article will delineate the idea that the Internet is used solely for operations, but rather is more purposely used to radicalize and desensitize recruits to the terrorist cause by breaking down this barrier to immoral behavior. The compelling aspect of this theory is the idea that terrorist organizations use, and have been using, the Internet in a much more subversive and effective way than counter-terrorist organizations have credited them with and, as a result, the defense of this radicalization is lagging greatly. It is interesting to note that Dr. Weimann published this report in 2008 and this subliminal nature of Internet radicalization is still not widely discussed.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism publishes an annual report (2013) that tells us why private citizens “have a dog in this fight” and why we should be giving extremists more respect for intelligence and creativity. This group, based at the University of Maryland, provides statistical background on terrorist activity around the world. The report “Annex of Statistical Information: Country Reports on Terrorism 2012” details types of attacks, countries in which attacks took place, the annual number of casualties and fatalities resulting from terrorism, and types of weapons, or methodology used, in the attacks. For example, the Taliban, which has received most of our military attention over the past decade, was responsible for 525 total attacks in 2012. That number will be dwarfed by the current activity from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which has also been responsible for beheading two Americans and a British national over the past few months. In 2012, when the report was published, ISIL hadn’t even conducted half the attacks the Taliban was credited with. Recently, many news organizations have reported a record number of British nationals being radicalized over the Internet and traveling to Syria to support the ISIL cause. This phenomenon is also playing out in the United States in a more marked fashion than ever before.

But, what do I really mean when I say there is a deeper story to Internet radicalization? Nicholas Carr, in his seminal work The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, (2010) makes a strong argument as to how and why the Internet, or use of the Internet by extremists, can be compelling people to become radicalized and run off to jihad war at a record pace. Carr posits the theory that the Internet, or perhaps technology in general, is changing the way human beings think and act. Much scientific research has been written on the subject of the formation of neural pathways in the learning process. Carr infers that those established neural pathways are now being rewired so as to receive information differently than in the past; faster, shorter, more dense transmission. He insists, for example, that frequent users of the Internet are no longer capable of “deep reading” subjects because the Net has trained our brains to desire information delivery more efficiently. The opening chapters of The Shallows describe the impact different mediums (i.e. books, movies, the Internet) have when delivering information to the human brain. His theory is that the Internet is changing the way our brain processes information. Carr’s work will be used to study the possible deeper impacts of Internet use and how terrorists are, knowingly or unknowingly, tapping into it to accomplish their mission of jihad. As counter-terrorism agencies seem to be focused on the tactical nature of use of the Internet by extremists, such as communications and financial transactions, they are missing the psychological weapon of radicalization causing the most harm.

The European Policy Planners Network on Countering Radicalisation and Polarisation (PPN), a consortium of governmental agencies, commissioned the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) to study the problem (2011). In its working paper, the ISD flatly asserts that counter-terrorist organizations are only in the early stages of clearly understanding the role of the Internet in radicalization. This paper also brings additional data to light regarding the use of social media to bring more women to the Islamic jihadist cause. The report reinforces the theory that terrorists are using Internet technology to normalize and moralize violent behavior. The constant bombardment of this imagery, combined with the supporting message of a religious cause or a holy war, is changing how people become associated with extremism. In many cases, face-to-face contact is no longer needed as the Internet is serving as a very efficient surrogate.

Although Dr. Marie Wright’s report (2008) is a little dated to anchor this paper, it has been included for a very specific reason. Wright is a professor of Management Information Systems at Connecticut State University (lifetime distinguished professor appointment) and has been writing on Internet security issues since the mid 1990’s. In this report, published in The Forensic Examiner, she details specific types of technology attacks terrorists have used for many years, providing historical data which clearly indicates advanced understanding of the Internet many years before large organizations, in this case banks, started to implement safeguards for prevention. Extremists have understood the power of the Internet almost since its inception and counter-terrorism organizations are just now starting to catch up.

The bottom line is extremist groups are far more advanced in the deployment of Internet technology than they are being credited with. Whether it is the type of attack, as in the Denial-of-Service attacks against financial institutions, or the psychological aspect of radicalization, counter-terrorist organizations need to start giving credit where credit is due and get caught up in defense.

References

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2013, May). Annex of statistical information: Country reports on terrorism 2012 (Rep.). Retrieved September 18, 2014, from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=737481

Radicalisation: The role of the Internet (Working paper). (2011). London: Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Retrieved September 16, 2014, from https://www.counterextremism.org/resources/details/id/11/ppn-working-paper-radicalisation-the-role-of-the-internet

Weimann, G. (2008). The psychology of mass-mediated terrorism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(1), 69-86. doi:10.1177/0002764208321342

Wright, M. (2008). Technology & terrorism: How the Internet facilitates radicalization. The Forensic Examiner, 17(4), 14-20.

Jaron Lanier Interview

Jaron Lanier is just the type of guy you’re afraid your daughter is going to bring home. When you first see him you think to yourself, that’s why I keep my shotgun clean. Then he opens his mouth and something prophetical spews out and you know you’ve made a mistake. The wife gives you the look, and before you know it, he’s eating your food at the dinner table and laughing about his inclusion on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Yep, turns out the man’s a genius and you’re not.

If there is one thing, one overwhelming thing, we haven’t figured out about the Internet yet, it’s the issue of privacy. Mr. Lanier, it turns out, is right in the middle of the discussion. Banging around in the kitchen of the Internet since its inception, serving up all those wonderful recipes, he’s seen the good and the bad. Mostly, these days, he’s concerning himself with the bad. But, he has a refreshing outlook on the subject. Since he has the credibility of having multiple tech startups, and subsequent sales, under his belt, he has the right to defend his contributions to the quandary. He doesn’t really defend anything. In fact, he’s pleasantly honest when he says he and his peers have really screwed up the world by unleashing the power of this technology without considering the end result to society. In their “Manifest Destiny” excitement, they did not realize power was going to amass to the owners of the largest computers (perhaps naively). They did not realize that the balance of power was going to be so out of whack that the wealth gap would crack like an earthquake fault-line and shrink the middle class. And now he’d like to try to fix it.

The man is a tinkerer by nature and he wants to try a few experiments. First of all, Lanier would like “the commoner” to get paid for the data he/she inputs to the Internet. All of that data consumers are freely providing to the folks with the big computers, like Facebook, is worth something. In fact, it’s worth a whole bunch and Lanier would like to see the wealth spread around. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he would like to see us take a step back and create a sort of “Constitution” or “Bill of Rights” I guess you could say, so the Internet has some operating rules and everybody gets treated fairly. In fact, Lanier thinks some of this fairness can actually be coded into the software.

Regardless of which direction the conversation goes, or even in which language it is spoken, it is good the Jaron Laniers of the world are involved. He is experienced and balanced in his approach and we can only benefit from his inclusion. Somewhere between the “big computer owners” and socialism is a good answer. Let’s all hope the discussion continues and is fruitful.

Lanier, J. (2013, July 12). Jaron Lanier: Who owns the future? [Interview by S. Paikin]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdEuII9cv-U

Reading Response 4

 “N=All” out to get you

What are we going to do with all this data? Exactly who is collecting our information and why is it so important to them? Wait a minute, why am I not getting paid for the data I give them? Or am I? Who gets to define good versus evil? These are just a few of the questions being bantered about by all of this week’s authors. There is an ethical, or lack of ethical depending on your viewpoint, underpinning to the amalgamation of information on the Internet. The same ethical dilemma overshadows the use of the information for reasons both beneficial and nefarious as suspected by Dr. Ian Bogost (2013), a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He portends Google is actually trying to redefine the meaning of evil by writing, “…through it’s motto Google has effectively redefined evil as a matter of unserviceability in general, and unserviceability among corporatized information services in particular. As for virtue, it’s a non-issue: Google’s acts are by their very nature righteous, a consequence of Google having done them.” Kieron O’Hara (2013), a senior research fellow in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, is no lover of Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook. He claims Zuckerberg is being “disingenuous” when he maintains the position that social networking sites have had no effect on user’s behavior – they’re just the paper people write on so to speak. I have read and seen many interviews of Zuckerberg and at no point have I walked away with the opinion he felt that way. In fact, my interpretation is that he understands the issue quite well. He just wants to make sure Facebook shareholders benefit from the phenomena.

This all seems a little paranoid to me. After all, everyday there are scientists working away in corporate laboratories making ethical decisions about how to experiment with new drugs – including human studies. Those pioneer decision makers in new drug discovery could be accused of machination because their companies will make large profits from the discoveries, even though their tactics will save lives. Although it is always beneficial to have naysayers involved in a conversation, especially when discussing ethical issues, the approach by Harford (2014) and Lanier (2013) seems more productive. Tim Harford, author of the best seller “The Undercover Economist,” doesn’t attack big companies for using “Big Data.” He simply and artfully lays out the argument that it’s a new field of discovery and we have to be careful about how we approach it. He has a pragmatic concept to the issue; people matter and we shouldn’t let the machines take over. In other words, the Internet, and technology in general, is a child that needs to be parented. Jaron Lanier (2013), whose dreadlocks are obviously covering up the equivalent of a warp-capable starship engine, also takes a very constructive approach in his interview with Steve Paikin on “The Agenda.” First of all, he has street-cred because he has been involved with the infrastructure of the Internet since before social networking was even a thought. Secondly, one has to give the guy credit because he’s willing to say, “We could have done this better from the get-go, and now it’s time to try something different.”

The old adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” has never applied more than it does today. Every time we, as users of this technology, input information to the Internet, we pay a price. That much is certain. Although it is beneficial to have the Bogosts and O’Haras of the world warning us of catastrophe, my gut tells me it will be the Harfords and Laniers that will win the day. After all, progress is made by being open-minded and simply filtering out the noise of extreme positions. That way, we all win.

Bogost, I. (2013, October 15). What is ‘evil’ to Google? TheAtlantic.com. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/what-is-evil-to-google/280573/

Harford, T. (2014, March 28). Big data: Are we making a big mistake? FT.com. Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/21a6e7d8-b479-11e3-a09a-00144feabdc0.html – axzz2ziUgQIoH

Lanier, J. (2013, July 12). Jaron Lanier: Who owns the future? [Interview by S. Paikin]. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdEuII9cv-U

O’Hara, K. (2013). Are we getting privacy the wrong way round? IEEE Internet Computing, 17(4), 89-92. doi: 10.1109/MIC.2013.62

Terrorist Use of the Internet for Radicalization and Communication: Counter-Terrorism Organizations’ Lack of Understanding

Annotated Bibliography

References

Amble, J. C. (2012). Combating terrorism in the new media environment. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 35(5), 339-353. doi: 10.1080/1057610X.2012.666819

Amble provides an overview as to how the Internet, or new media as he refers to a more generalized class of current technological tools, is used by terrorists to hyper-drive their arsenal in five areas; propaganda, recruitment, training, and operational command and control. The article spans decades of observations, which clearly indicate that terrorist leaders are very effective at understanding not only the technology itself, but also the implications of the presence of the technology and how to employ it to their cause. Amble does an excellent job of illustrating how far ahead terrorists are in the use of the Internet as compared to Western counter-terrorism understanding and adoption. Data from the paper will be used to illustrate the gap between current governmental interpretation of the Internet as a radicalization tool and that of the theory behind Nicholas Carr’s work on the remapping of the brain.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2013, May). Annex of statistical information: Country reports on terrorism 2012 (Rep.). Retrieved September 18, 2014, from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=737481

This group, based at the University of Maryland, provides statistical background on terrorist activity around the world. The report details types of attacks, countries in which attacks took place, the “body count,” to use a Vietnam-era description of the number of casualties and deaths as a result of terrorism, and types of weapons/methodology used in the attacks. It is an annual “report card” on terrorist activity. The data clearly indicates that private citizens and property (non-governmental, non-military) are the leading targets of terrorism. Statistics from this report will be used to provide background emphasis on the impact extremists have on the world given today’s tactics.

Behr, I. V., Reding, A., Edwards, C., & Gribbon, L. (2013). Radicalisation in the digital era (Rep. No. RR-453-RE). RAND Corporation. Retrieved September 16, 2014, from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR400/RR453/RAND_RR453.pdf

This report is a study of 15 cases of terrorism and extremism in the UK in which the RAND Corporation analyzes whether or not the Internet creates opportunities for, and speeds the process of, the radicalization of terrorists. The two fundamental questions asked are 1.) Is the Internet used in the process of radicalization and if so, how and 2.) In what way do pre-radicalized online activities relate to post-radicalized offline activities? The authors of the paper determine that the Internet does indeed create opportunities to become radicalized, although in many cases face-to-face contact is still important. They also find that the Internet provides fertile ground for communities in which extremists can find others with similar ideas and belief systems. Overall, this is a lengthy report which will be referenced to shine light on the fact that think tanks are looking at Internet use by extremists as a tactical tool versus a strategic tool.

Carr, N. G. (2010). The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Nicholas Carr posits the theory that the Internet, or perhaps technology in general, is changing the way human beings think and act. Much scientific research has been written on the subject of the formation of neural pathways in the learning process. Carr infers that those established neural pathways are now being rewired so as to receive information differently than in the past; faster, shorter, more dense transmission. He claims that frequent users of the Internet, for example, are no longer capable of “deep reading” subjects because the Net has trained our brains to desire information delivery more efficiently. The opening chapters of The Shallows describe the impact different mediums have when delivering information to the human brain.

This book will be used as the foundational piece in the paper to draw a connection between Carr’s theories of deeper impacts of Internet use and how terrorists are, knowingly or unknowingly, tapping into it to accomplish their mission of jihad. Extremists are not using the Internet solely for tactical reasons (i.e. operations, communications), but on a grander scale that rises to the level of strategy. Much of the supporting research will be used to show the fact that counter-terrorism organizations are missing this fact.

Denning, D. E. (2009). Terror’s web: How the Internet is transforming terrorism. In Handbook of Internet crime (pp. 194-213). Cullompton, Devon, UK: Willan.

Dr. Denning, a professor in the Department of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, details various ways in which a person can participate in jihad, without actually engaging in violence. The paper illustrates the fact that the bar for investing oneself in terrorist activity is actually quite low once a person has been indoctrinated to a certain way of thinking. Denning is blunt in her assessment that the Al Qaeda organization would not exist without the Internet. Portions of this paper will be used to make plain the fact that extremists have integrated the Internet into all aspects of their organizations and, by doing so, have provided ample opportunity for anyone to become involved in their cause.

Homegrown Islamic extremism in 2013: The perils of online recruitment and self-radicalization (Rep.). (2014). New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved September 16, 2014, from http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/homegrown-islamic-extremism-in-2013-online-recruitment-and-self-radicalization.pdf

According to this report, by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there were 31 terrorist plots on American soil between the years of 2008 and 2013. There were 14 American citizens or people that had gained permanent resident status detained for their involvement in terrorist activity within the borders of the United States in 2013. This paper provides significant detail on both domestic terrorist cases and Americans identified as going overseas to fight jihad. The ADL emphatically states that face-to-face meetings are no longer required for radicalization due to the power of the Internet. Data from this report will be used to provide statistical support to the prevalence of Internet/technology use by terrorist organizations.

Neumann, P. R. (2012). Countering online radicalization in America (Rep.). Washington, D.C.: Bipartisan Policy Center. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/BPC _Online Radicalization Report.pdf

Former Senators Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, founded the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2007 as the “only Washington, D.C. based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship” according to their website. National and Homeland Security are two of the many topics in which they attempt to present bipartisan solutions to key issues of the day. The strategy, in presenting this report, is to address a vacuum of leadership from the White House in the area of counter-radicalization. The project does a good job in pointing out the lack of a systematic program to counter against radicalization on the Internet. The report, however, will also lend itself to illuminating the fact that, even when working on a bipartisan basis, governmental leaders can provide well-crafted reports with very few workable solutions or actionable ideas.

Radicalisation: The role of the Internet (Working paper). (2011). London: Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Retrieved September 16, 2014, from https://www.counterextremism.org/resources/details/id/11/ppn-working-paper-radicalisation-the-role-of-the-internet

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue wrote this working paper on behalf of the European Policy Planners Network on Countering Radicalization and Polarization (PPN). The PPN is a network of governmental agencies in Europe. The authors again stipulate that the understanding of, and counter-actions against, uses of the Internet by extremists are in the early stages. The paper brings additional data to light regarding the use of social media to bring more women to the Islamic jihadist cause. The critical part of this paper that will be used to support the argument is the discussion of the theory that the way in which extremists are using the Internet is sending assurances that violent behavior is normal and acceptable in society if it is necessary to support a cause.

Weimann, G. (2008). The psychology of mass-mediated terrorism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(1), 69-86. doi:10.1177/0002764208321342

Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at Haifa University, Israel, is one of the more prolific authors on the use of the Internet by terrorists. In this article he delves in to not only how the Internet is used by extremists to achieve their aims, but why as well. Weimann provides insight into the creation of al Qaeda’s longest producing website, and the ease in which it was established. The article gives much detail on the rhetoric used on terrorist websites and Albert Bandura’s theory of selective moral disengagement, which, in the author’s opinion, is required in order to perform the acts of atrocity commonplace in terror groups. Weimann’s article will delineate the idea that the Internet is used solely for operations, but rather is more purposely used to radicalize and desensitize recruits to the terrorist cause.

Wright, M. (2008). Technology & Terrorism: How the Internet facilitates radicalization. The Forensic Examiner, 17(4), 14-20.

This article provides factual examples of various types of attacks performed on the Internet by terrorist groups. Wright points out the fact that some of the attacks against large corporations being publicized today were actually used almost a decade ago by Islamic extremists. The article also provides descriptions of the various major terrorist groups at the time of publishing. In true forensic style, Wright sticks to the facts without providing a tremendous amount of back-story to the terrorist act performed. The article will be used to emphasize the point that the current denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on financial institutions was actually employed a long time ago by extremists, proving the fact that these groups are routinely far ahead of counter-terrorist organization thought. Extremists know how to use the power of the Internet to accomplish very complex goals and objectives.