Terrorism and the digital world

Changing Threats


As well as living, travelling and working in what feels to be an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world, we now also have to accommodate the increasingly influential digital world and its wide range of uses and abuses. Whilst of course this applies to all of us as private citizens, it is also particularly applicable to those of us who work and advise clients in the field of security.

Some recent events and reactions to them have prompted this reflection:

  • The Charlie Hebdo shootings
  • The kidnapping and beheading of two Japanese people by IS
  • IS’s ruthless promulgation of its terrorist acts to publicize its cause
  • The establishment by the British army of a brigade to complement conventional battlefield tactics with non-lethal methods including social media.
  • Controversy regarding the BBC’s caution about using the word ‘terrorist’.

Much has been (and will continue to be) written about these and related events, responses and outcomes. However, the purpose of this blog piece is to consider some of the consequences for security professionals and their clients arising from this challenging combination: the emergence of a particularly virulent form of aggression from IS and its like, and the growing importance of the digital world and its exploitation by these groups.

IS is using the digital world to exploit a rich theme of sentiment or what could perhaps be described, somewhat bizarrely, as a kind of romanticism, attracting Muslim youth both in and well beyond the Arab world, keen to right perceived wrongs in and beyond the Arab world.

As well as causing serious problems for western governments, this regrettably effective media and digital media strategy is also creating challenges for others:

  • Traditional media have woken up to the fact that their eagerness to break news has been successfully exploited. They are realising that whilst they must report news they shouldn’t let themselves be manipulated, that arguably the primary purpose in killing Kenji Goto, Alan Henning and others was to use its shock effect for propaganda purposes
  • The importance of the language used in describing often awful acts of violence is under debate. The BBC has attracted criticism for its attempts to seek rigour in the use of the word ‘terror’ to ensure that its reporting can be seen as being as neutral as possible – ‘one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’. The risk here is of slipping into the fallacy of moral equivalence.
  • Such is the adaptable nature of language we now have an emerging group of digital ‘terror’ cousins including ‘cyberterror’, ‘cyberattacks’ and ‘cyberwarefare’.

Individuals, corporations and other organisations can’t avoid these issues – we all use the internet and a range of digital tools. DHSC is no exception: website, email, and the use of specialist eLearning products etc.

At very least we must be aware that in this increasingly digital age the consequences of terror are never far from us – the old degrees of separation are ceasing to exist and we must acknowledge the associated risks and react accordingly.