Who Controls Social Media?Research Paper

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Role of social media in terrorism is one that is unclear for many researchers who recognize both the power of social media to disseminate unverified information widely and quickly and the power of the term "terrorism" to convey an "us vs. them" paradigm (Herzberg, Steinberg, 2012; Scanlon, 2005; Britton, 2005; Dombrowsky, 2005). Social media usage helped spread instantaneously around the world images of the death of Gaddafi. It has also helped spread messages of "terrorists," both authentic and inauthentic (Kearns, Conlon, Young, 2014). It is a tool which ultimately can aid in the rapid dissemination of information or of misinformation, and thus can help to shape public opinion in a unique way. What is unique about social media is its ability to mix authentic with inauthentic information in such a way that followers of social media are faced with the choices of either accepting the information presented them as credible or investigating the claims via third party sources. In this context, it is not surprising that Kearns, Conlon and Young (2014) assert that "lies about terrorism can be strategically employed to help a group achieve its desired goal(s) without necessitating that an attack be truthfully claimed" (p. 422). With this in mind, the role of social media becomes a significant strategic tool of groups, organizations and states wishing to shape public opinion regarding acts of terrorism.

The question is: What role do social media play in terrorism? It is hypothesized in this study that since it has been shown that states sponsor terrorism, much of what passes as "terrorism" on social media is related to false flag terrorism (Kearns, Conlon, Young, 2014) or to exercises of entrapment by state agencies. Various news outlets, journalists, scholars, and researchers have reported on both instances (Escobar, 2014; Stone, Kuznick, 2012; Windrem, Brunker, 2015). This study intends to show that social media is a tool utilized by states both to exaggerate and to capitalize on the nature, extent, and threat of terrorism.

Terrorism has been defined by the U.S. Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction as the "calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature…through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear" (Sebastian, p. 67). In this sense, terrorism is not restricted to ethnicity or geographical region: anyone who uses a calculated threat of violence or intimidation to instill fear may be deemed a terrorist. In fact, activist Russell Brand famously labeled American pundit and talk-show host Sean Hannity a terrorist when the latter aggressively accused a guest speaker of supporting Hamas. Likewise, researchers have identified several Western states as being sponsors of terrorist activities (Scott, 2008; Weiner, 2008; Escobar, 2014).

What role social media plays in terrorism depends on how states, groups and agencies prefer to use it.

II. Literature Review

The literature review was conducted first by selecting the appropriate literature using keyword searches in databases such as Sage, JSTOR, ProQuest, Questia, etc. Keyword searches were based primarily on suggested phrases from studies with which the researcher had some familiarity. The researcher used keyword searches such as "social media terrorism," which yielded studies such as Amble's (2012) "Combating Terrorism in the New Media Environment" and Cho and Wilson's (2008) "Terrorism and Media in Korea." This studies, along with ones by Scanlon (2005) and Britton (2005) suggested other keywords such "false flag terrorism," which yielded the Kearns, Conlon, and Young (2014) study. As more studies were read, more keywords suggested themselves until the researcher had accumulated a broad and deep literature collection on the subject of social media and terrorism. Most of the literature on the subject is comprised of essays based on studies of relevant research in the field.

Scanlon (2005) discusses how the term "terrorism" is a misleading one precisely because of the way that the media uses it, conjuring with it the idea of an "us" vs. "them" paradigm. Scanlon's essay is part of a discussion on the sociology of terrorism, risk, and social media in a series of essays penned by Scanlon, Britton, Dombrowsky and others, who argue the issues among one another. Scanlon (2005) is startled by "how much of the debate [is]...influenced by awareness of various events and how much of that awareness [is] media related" (p. 13). The point he makes in his essay is that "awareness" of terrorism via social media has allowed the former to take on a special significance that it would not have possessed twenty years earlier before the rise of social media made information so instantaneous and capable of being sensationalized by all the major news networks monitoring and using social media. Social ideas such as terrorism, according to Scanlon, have been largely influenced by media representation.

Britton (2005) asserts that the U.S. network of media channels, which includes social media, is a powerful State tool used for disseminating information designed to cause receivers of that information to form a negative view of "them" and a positive view of "us." Considering that major corporate networks will inundate Twitter with updates for casual followers, it is naive, so these scholars suggest, to imagine that social media is a platform used only by alternative groups, activists, and the underground. The corporate world and the political world is very familiar with social media and its uses.

Dombrowsky (2005) asserts as much in his essay response to Scanlon and Britton.

Dombrowsky's main argument is that terms such as terrorism ought to be viewed from a sociological perspective, especially in a post-9/11 world, where media communications lend them a changing, subjective, and almost "mythological significance," which can in turn be exploited by organizations not necessarily concerned with addressing the reality of the situation (p. 84).

The arguments of Scanlon, Britton, and Dombrowsky lay a type of sociological framework by which the nature of social media's role in terrorism may be understood even more deeply in terms of theoretical approaches.

Amble (2012) notes in his essay that social media monitoring "will lend critical advantage to governments" seeking to oppose "global jihadists" (p. 339). Amble's thesis is underscored by the suggestion that the only terrorists who pose any threat to states are "jihadist" Muslims. It is, as Kearns, Conlon and Young (2014) show, a vastly naive suggestion. This study alone has pointed out that many researchers view nearly all states as capable of sponsoring terrorism; therefore, for Amble to focus solely on the threat of "jihad" implies that he accepts the mainstream narrative concocted by pundits like Sean Hannity, whose approach has been questioned labeled by Brand, via social media (ironically) as terroristic. Amble (2012) attempts to show that intelligence agencies are using social media to track terrorist groups' activities over the Internet -- but as Windrem and Brunker (2015) have shown, intelligence agencies like the FBI are actually engaged in a process of cultivating terrorists via social media entrapment and then "busting" them, as was recently the case for an Ohio man arrested in Washington, D.C. On charges of threatening to blow up the White House. Amble (2012) attempts to highlight the legitimacy of states using social media to combat terrorism, but what he fails to convey is how states use social media to promote terrorism in their "mission" to "combat" it.

Dean, Bell, and Newman (2012) follows Amble in the same "us" vs. "them" paradigm mentality, noting how state agencies are utilizing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to track and prevent the actions of terrorists and would-be terrorists. Like Amble, Dean et al. (2012) suggest that terrorists are using social media to unite. What they do not suggest, however, is that state agencies assist in that unification process by cultivating "home-grown" terrorists, assisting in their web productions (Escobar, 2014), funding their activities (Weiner, 2008), and spreading their image both far and wide by constantly spreading their message in both social and mainstream media. What Dean et al. (2012) attempt to show is the clever way in which state agencies are monitoring social media in order keep tabs on terrorist activity. The failure of the study is in the fact that it says nothing more, for state agencies are not only monitoring, they are aiding and abetting.

Herzberg and Steinberg (2012) provide an analysis of several case studies and offer guidance on the legalities of utilizing social media in the prosecution of terrorists. The study focuses on abiding by "international humanitarian law (IHL)" (p. 494) and notes that states are heavily utilizing social media. With so much exposure, it might make one wonder if anything is being kept confidential. But Herzberg and Steinberg see such operations as educative for the general public: they view the war on terror as a legitimate one, in contrast to what Scanlon, Britton, Dombrowsky and others say about the war. Instead, Herzberg and Steinberg recycle the standard script, asserting that "social media can serve as a useful conduit for monitoring armed conflict and tracking potential violations of IHL" (p. 505). Nowhere do they assert that Western states are some of the biggest violators of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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