Terrorist Chatter – Understanding what terrorists talk about

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  • Since the early 2000s the Internet has become particularly crucial for the global jihadist movement. Nowhere has the Internet been more important in the movement’s development than  in  the  West.  While  dynamics  differ  from  case  to  case,  it  is  fair  to  state  that  almost  all  recent cases of radicalization in the West involve at least some digital footprint. Jihadists, whether structured groups or unaffiliated sympathizers, have long understood the importance of the Internet in general and social media, in particular. Zachary Chesser, one of the individuals studied  in  this  report,  fittingly  describes  social  media  as  “simply  the  most  dynamic  and  convenient form of media there is.” As the trend is likely to increase, understanding how individuals make the leap to actual militancy is critically important.

    This study is based on the analysis of the online activities of seven individuals. They share several key traits. All seven were born or raised in the United States. All seven were active in online and offline jihadist scene around the same time (mid‐ to late 2000s and early 2010s). All seven were either convicted for terrorism‐related offenses (or, in the case of two of the seven, were killed in terrorism‐related incidents.)

    The  intended  usefulness  of  this  study  is  not  in  making  the  case  for  monitoring  online  social media for intelligence purpose—an effort for which authorities throughout the West need little encouragement. Rather, the report is meant to provide potentially useful pointers in the  field  of  counter‐radicalization.  Over  the  past  ten  years  many  Western  countries  have  devised more or less extensive strategies aimed at preventing individuals from embracing radical ideas or de‐radicalizing (or favoring the disengagement) of committed militants. (Canada is also in the process of establishing its own counter‐radicalization strategy.)

  • Vidino, Lorenzo, Kilberg, J, Lefkowitz, Josh, & Kohlmann, Evan. (2015). Terrorist Chatter – Understanding what terrorists talk about. NPSIA Working Paper Series. Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
Date Created
  • 2015-05-01


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