Terrorists' Use of the Internet, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series Vol 136

Writing in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series, Universities' Police science Institute and Crime and Security Research Institute Researcher Daniel Grinnell explores how post-event open source media analysis can provide new insights to usefully inform the work of strategic and operational decision makers for.

Informed by the analysis of empirical data deriving from a technique for the rapid measurement of the proportional impact that individual accounts and the ideological stance to which they belong is having on public discourse, the chapter aims to identify aspects of public reactions which could be better understood in the wake of terrorist events. Developing the implications of this approach, the work considers the opportunities and challenges for police, security, and governmental bodies in using these kinds of data to understand the segmentations, the polarisations, and the generation of conflict which take place as a result of the differing opinions and stances of those participating in open source communications.

The method utilised in the study is premised upon analysing the directional network generated through reposting and retweeting behaviour to identify those accounts generating the most pervasive and influential messaging, without any previous intelligence about these accounts or their associations. The application of ideological stance labelling enables the aggregation of these accounts, and a calculated measure of their “travel patterns” can be derived. In effect, this establishes an indicator as to how much ideologically loaded messages are permeating public discourse in proportion to open source traffic volume surrounding post-event collective action. To illustrate and illuminate these findings and how the methods are being applied, a case study of the collective action that followed the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby is set out.

The chapter closes by considering the intelligence potential, institutional limitations, and ethical dilemmas that advanced analytical capabilities in post-event scenarios may bring. This includes the operational implications for police, security, and government bodies of the monitoring of and the responding to open source communications discourse dynamically, and effectively “at pace”.