The scourge of terrorism has been with the world for centuries, but the 21st century has seen an almost unprecedented resurgence in hateful, murderous behavior. Unfortunately, in many ways the technological revolution brought about by the advent of the internet and personal computers has facilitated this rise, in four particular ways.
Fifty years ago, recruitment to terrorist organizations required that the new recruits had face-to-face contact with the ringleaders. These organizations concentrated in particular geographic regions, rarely able to spread beyond the conditions that spawned them in the first place.
Now, disaffected and troubled youth in quiet suburbia can find an outlet for their rage and aggression by conversing with the hatemongers from around the world. Instead of needing to watch for the growth of these organizations in their traditional regions, the world has seen individuals or cells arise in unlikely places, from suburban Orlando to quiet Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray.
Not only has the internet allowed these disaffected youth to find others with similar problems to join with, but it has also given voice to the most violent and bitter demagogues. Literally anyone with an internet connection and a cheap camera can record a video and post it online for all to see, and clerics and preachers of hate have used this otherwise wonderful medium of education and entertainment for bitter invective and diatribe. Many of this new generation of terrorists share commonalities, not least of them a troubled youth, low self-esteem, and a history of accessing videos of these types of angry ranting speeches. Where before these people may well have gotten professional help to deal with their problems, now they find guidance from the handful of evil men who would otherwise remain contained.
Coordinating Global Action
After radicalization, many of these youth are able to coordinate with others of similar mindset, controlled by the hateful masterminds through chat rooms, forums, and text messages. The advent of other technical achievements of value, like encryption for safe business transactions and privacy, has been often co-opted by these groups to safely communicate on a global scale, allowing them to coordinate terrifying acts of violence.
Even just twenty years ago, a terrorist attack in a far-flung corner of the world would barely grace the pages of the newspaper in places unaffected by the tragedy. The inter-connectivity of the modern technological world has brought an increased empathy for all of humanity. While overall a positive development, this increased sense has been co-opted by terrorists to spread their message of hate. Now, attacks across the world are broadcast across the wires and through the air at the speed of light, and every internet-connected country hears about these travesties within moments of their occurrence. One needs only point to the increasing use of video footage by terrorist groups to know that they recognize the power of instantly broadcasting their deeds to billions.
It is not all darkness, however: technology has also given humanity the weapon to fight terrorism: education, compassion, and love. With worldwide reach, many of these youth can be counseled before their confused anger is directed towards the innocent.
specializes in intelligence analysis and terrorism studies and is founder of .