The World Wide Web of Terror?
In Kenya last month alone, the extremist group Al-Shabaab carried out attacks and raids on a military base used by Kenyan and American troops, on a passenger bus in Lamu and in two Northern counties resulting in at least 12 total casualties.
Kenya is not an anomaly.
Between January 1 to now, there have been 14 terror attacks globally resulting in 308 fatalities, according to our map of terrorist attacks developed in partnership with Esri. This map uses crowdsourced data from Wikipedia to present a real-time chronology of terrorist attacks around the world. And it’s showing an increase in violence and extremism.
With terrorist attacks on the rise, one question surfaces: Is the internet facilitating violent extremism?
When headlines attest to how social media platforms are being used by extremists to recruit others and execute terror attacks, it’s difficult to say there isn’t a connection. But, this study published in December 2019 suggests more research is needed before the internet could be to blame for the increase in attacks and radicalization. Other scholars agree. There are actually very few empirically grounded analyses on this relationship.
In addition to insignificant findings from studies, there have been numerous policies aimed at preventing violent extremism online. However, more interventions seem to be focused on offline approaches. As technology and the internet become ubiquitous in many parts of the world, peacetech bridges the divide.
Several companies work to connect vulnerable individuals affected by terror attacks with online interventions and resources like ISD’s one to one tool and Moonshot CVE’s multi-media peacebuilding materials.
PeaceTech Lab is also engaging in this space. In Kenya, we studied how language is weaponized online by extremists to radicalize and recruit youth. We developed a lexicon of violent extremist language on social media that local activists and organizations use to combat violent extremism. Students at the University of Manchester even applied this lexicon to monitor online sentiment of Kenyans after a terrorist attack in order to recommend online approaches to counter extremist narratives.
We're just some of those working at the intersection of peace media and data by applying sound research methods to understand the relationships between online speech and offline violence in various contexts. This allows us to stay ahead of the curve and provide lasting solutions to preventing violent extremism.