Terrorist Web Sites

Their Contents, Functioning, and Effectiveness
  • Maura Conway

Abstract

The majority of the literature dealing with terrorism and the Internet focuses on cyberterrorism. In particular, it focuses on the vulnerability of critical information infrastructure(s) to cyber attack. Consistently alarmist in nature, many of these texts focus on the potentially disastrous consequences of a successful future cyberterrorist attack1 while skipping blithely over the proven role played by the Internet in a vast amount of current terrorist activity.2 The fact remains that despite the presence of many terrorist organizations online worldwide, no act of cyberterrorism has ever yet occurred. The point is not that cyberterrorism cannot happen or will not happen, but that it has not happened yet. Given this fact, the state of research into terrorist groups’ very real online presence is curious on two counts. First, only a small number of political scientists, international relations scholars, or even those whose exclusive focus is the study of terrorism, have researched terrorist Web sites.3 As a cursory glance in any bookstore or library reveals, the majority of what passes for knowledge about the intersection of terrorism and the Internet is based on opinion and impression, not on social science theory or empirical investigation. Further, most of the research that is available is focused on specific groups and dispersed across space and time such that meaningful synthesis is next to impossible.

Keywords

Turkey Expense Malaysia Kelly Defend 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Ariana Eunjung Cha, “Cyberspace Security Czar Worries About ‘Digital Pearl Harbour’,” Washington Post, November 5, 2001; Barton Gellman, “Qaeda Cyberterror Called Real Peril,” Washington Post, June 28, 2002; Tania Hershman, “Cyberterrorism is Real Threat, Say Experts at Conference,” Israel Internet, December 11, 2000; Jerrold M. Post, Erich Shaw, and Keven Ruby, “From Car Bombs to Logic Bombs: The Growing Threat from Information Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer 2000); Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyberterrorism (California: McGraw Hill, 2003).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    A sampling of research on terrorist Web sites: Maura Conway, “Cybercortical Warfare: The Case of Hizbollah.org,” European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Joint Sessions of Workshops, Edinburgh, March 28– April 2, 2003, http://www.essex.ac.uk/ecpr/events/jointsessions/paperarchive/edinburgh/ws20/Conway.pdf; Brigitte Nacos, Mass-Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); Yariv Tsfati and Gabriel Weimann, “www.terrorism.com: Terror on the Internet,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 25, No. 5 (September–October 2002);Google Scholar
  3. Michael Whine, “Cyberspace: A New Medium for Communication, Command, and Control by Extremists,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 22, No. 3 (August 1999), pp. 231–245;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Michael Whine, “Islamist Organisations on the Internet,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1999), pp. 123–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    See, e.g., W. Lance Bennett, “Communicating Global Activism: Strengths and Vulnerabilities of Networked Politics,” Information, Communication, and Society, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2003), pp. 143–168;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Harry M. Cleaver, “The Zapatista Effect: The Internet and the Rise of an Alternative Political Fabric,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Spring 1998), pp. 621–631;Google Scholar
  7. Nick Couldry and James Curran, eds., Contesting Media Power (New York: Rowman, 2003);Google Scholar
  8. Wim Van De Donk, Brian Loader, Paul Dixon, and Dieter Rucht, eds., Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens, and Social Movements (London: Routledge, 2003);Google Scholar
  9. Peter I. Hajnal, ed., Civil Society in the Information Age (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Leander Kahney, “Internet Stokes Anti-War Movement,” Wired News, January 21, 2003, http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,57310,00.html?tw=wn_story_related;Google Scholar
  10. Sagi Leizerov, “Privacy Advocacy Groups Versus Intel: A Case Study of How Social Movements are Tactically Using the Internet to Fight Corporations,” Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter 2000), pp. 461–483;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Wan-Ying Lin and William H. Dutton, “The ‘Net’ Effect in Politics: The ‘Stop the Overlay’ Campaign in Los Angeles,” Party Politics, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2003), pp. 124–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 5.
    Walter Laqueur, The New Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 262.Google Scholar
  13. 6.
    There is a tendency to equate far-right or “hate” groups with terrorist groups, especially among Internet researchers. Such an equation does not hold up under scrutiny; Web sites maintained by terrorist and hate groups differ markedly in terms of appearance, content, functioning, and effectiveness. Analyses that uncritically lump terrorists and hate groups—and their Web sites—together include Kelly R. Damphousse and Brent L. Smith, “The Internet: A Terrorist Medium for the 21st Century,” in Harvey W. Kushner, ed., The Future of Terrorism: Violence in the New Millennium (London: Sage, 1998), pp. 208–224;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brian Levin, “Cyberhate: A Legal and Historical Analysis of Extremists’ Use of Computer Networks in America,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 45, No. 6 (2002), pp. 958–988; Nacos, Mass-Mediated Terrorism, pp. 103–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 8.
    Alex P. Schmid and Janny De Graaf, Violence as Communication: Insurgent Terrorism and the Western News Media (London: Sage, 1982), p. 9.Google Scholar
  16. 9.
    Rachel Gibson and Stephen Ward, “A Proposed Methodology for Studying the Function and Effectiveness of Party and Candidate Web Sites,” Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Fall 2000), p. 304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 12.
    Ronald D. Crelinsten, “Power and Meaning: Terrorism as a Struggle Over Access to the Communication Structure,” in Paul Wilkinson and A.M. Stewart, eds., Contemporary Research on Terrorism (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987), p. 420.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    See Karen S. Johnson-Cartee and Gary A. Copeland, Strategic Political Communication: Rethinking Social Influence, Persuasion, and Propaganda (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), pp. 141–142.Google Scholar
  19. 40.
    Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Philip Seib 2005

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  • Maura Conway

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