Social media vs. digital jihad


Workshop at the DW Global Media Forum. Hosted by the Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab


The efficiency with which extremist groups recruit radicalized followers online has caused upheaval around the world. The lives of civilians everywhere – in terrorist-controlled territories and elsewhere – are at risk. Today, extremist groups such as ISIS, AQMI, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda do not simply fight abroad, but also online and in Western countries. A fertile ground for militancy, social media are used by terrorists to defend their cause, exhibit their crimes, incite hate and violence, and attract followers by promising something for everyone. While the Internet is not the sole cause of radicalization, it has made jihadist messages easily available to all. Social media have become a weapon of war and we can no longer ignore this fact. As the battle against extremism increasingly takes place in cyberspace, Western governments and institutions are committed to fighting homegrown terrorism and radicalization, particularly online. But terrorist groups benefit from constant technological progress, and governments are struggling to keep up. How does the extremist propaganda machine work? Which sophisticated methods do extremist groups use to spread their messages? Most of all, what can Western governments, civil society groups and engaged individuals do – not only to identify would-be jihadists and “lone wolves” – but also to counter radicalized discourse and hate speech?


The well-attended workshop was launched by a short quiz of seven questions aiming to reveal misconceptions and myths about ISIS and their social media usage. The quiz was then followed by short presentations by the speakers who gave an overview on how extremist groups use the Internet to broadcast their atrocities. Kyle Matthews started off by explaining how the group has become the hub of social media extremism. ISIS’ imagery uses a psychological tactic, which helps it to recruit fighters. Marie Lamensch presented a gendered perspective on ISIS and its social media procedures. She gave numerous examples demonstrating how extremist women use social media to promote recruitment or spread propaganda. Gavin Reese closed the presentation by focusing on how journalists should share ISIS’ imagery without helping them to spread the propaganda. Another risk that journalists are confronted with when exposed to extremists’ imagery is its dangerous impact on health. The lively discussion with the audience highlighted the need for more research on the workshop’s issue.


Kyle Matthews, Senior Deputy Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Founder, Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab, Concordia University, Canada

Marie Lamensch Researcher and Assistant to the Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Concordia University, Canada

Gavin Rees Director, Dart Centre Europe for Journalism and Trauma, United Kingdom


Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi Correspondent and Editor, DW, Germany

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