It should come as no surprise to learn that terrorist groups are now widely utilizing the speed and connectivity of the internet to reach and recruit new members. A recent investigation by authors Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger has concluded that “as part of its quest to terrorize the world, ISIS has mastered an arena no other terrorist group has conquered before — the burgeoning world of social media.” As Stern and Berger noted, earlier terror groups like al Qaeda have not been as successful in advancing their twisted propaganda to a mass audience. However, by using the internet as a way of maximizing the exposure of Westerners like the now infamous “Jihadi John,” who has since been identified as a British Muslim, to behead other Westerners on videos uploaded to the internet, ISIS quickly caught the attention of nearly every major news outlet in the world. As a side effect of this debased notoriety, many disenfranchised youths and young adults are falling prey to the efforts of terrorists online. NBC News has reported that a growing number of young Westerners are believed to have been duped and radicalized online, including Chicago-area teen Mohammed Hamza Khan and his 15-year-old brother and 17-year-old sister. Likewise, teens from Denver to Chicago have left their otherwise comfortable American lives in the hope of joining the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. While their motivations may vary there is one common denominator; most were recruited online. Shockingly similar is the recent report by Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas FBI; Tom Class, noted there is “no doubt” ISIS is recruiting youth in North Texas, by targeting them over the internet. Class reported to NBC that he sees ISIS aggressively recruiting young people in North Texas using social media. He said that such recruiting efforts often begin in the open on more popular websites including Facebook and Twitter, but then ISIS recruiters move the conversations to encrypted websites or “go dark” on the internet to places called the “dark web” where technology and U.S. privacy laws limit what agents can do. This makes it harder for the FBI to track such activities.
Changing Nature of Terrorism
This is a disturbing trend that is in keeping with the overall changing nature of terrorism. Once understood to be limited to those of a particular nationality, religious, or political affiliation, global terrorism has rapidly evolved into a multi-faceted dilemma. For example, the New York Times recently reported that foreigners make up half of ISIS’ fighting force, and an estimated 4,000 are from Western countries. According to The Washington Post to further capitalize on this influx of foreigners, ISIS has released propaganda videos featuring foreign fighters who speak Western languages to encourage others to come to Syria to wage violent jihad or help the caliphate in some other way. These Western recruits, many of whom are recent Muslim converts who are searching for adventure or a purpose for their lives, are becoming “some of the most dangerous and fanatical adherents to radical Islam.” While social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, try to combat these terrorist accounts by attempting to shut them down unfortunately they have varying degrees of success in keeping such accounts deactivated. It is the very nature of the ease of accessibility associated with the internet that makes it attractive to terrorist groups. In a piece for the New York Daily News, John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism of the NYPD, said that in their use of social media such terrorist group’s pitches to potential members is not only evil but highly effective. According to Miller: “The real media genius of ISIS is in the team that produces their videos; at once dark, horrifying and compelling, they are professionally produced with special effects and a movie-maker’s sense of story arc and drama.” There’s also something else, according to Miller. Baghdadi has given young people a “tangible ... here-and-now place” that recruits can actually travel to, and ISIS lives this promise “out loud,” on Facebook and Twitter, in online magazines, and on YouTube.
Relevant Bible Passages
Interestingly, such increase in the use of technology for evil purposes should not surprise us. Many prophecy teachers point to the Book of Daniel for insight into our rapidly changing world. In one verse, the Lord told Daniel to seal up the words of his prophecy “even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4). Thus, as we increase the shear amount of knowledge available at the fingertips of everyone through their computers, we are witnessing what could have been described in the Bible over 2,000 years ago! We can readily observe that knowledge has certainly risen by leaps and bounds with the invention of the internet, just as the ability to misuse such technology has risen. People ask me all the time if this passage means we should avoid using computers and I always say “No.” Computers are a wonderful aspect of technology that the Lord has blessed us with so that we can use them – as we would any other tool – for His glory. As with any device, such as radio or television, there are excessive examples of abuse but the good can certainly outweigh the bad if we are careful and purposeful. As with any new technology we must pray for the wisdom to use it, and control its use in our homes, wisely.