The Internet and Terrorism

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

The Internet is arguably the great technology ever to be invented. It allows us to research and communicate in new ways, with such ease. While a majority of us probably use the Internet for more mundane activities such as checking our email or googling diet plans, some people have realized the advantage of ease in spreading ideology and rationale for social and political causes. With the creation of new ways for communication and social media, there has been a recent rise in recruitment for activist and terrorist groups.

All websites have a domain, and that domain can be supported by a location anywhere in the world. There is no clear international law concerning the way the Internet must operate, meaning depending on the country promoting the domain, different rules will apply to it and jurisdiction over it varies. Terrorists from all different rationales have noticed the advantages the modern Internet provides them and are continually creating new websites and platforms to share ideas and recruit members. Websites belonging to terrorist organizations share similar themes in content including a history of the organization, details of their social and political background, notable accounts of events and people within, and often current news relevant to the group. However, these websites are often not as visible or accessible as others like Facebook or this website. The internet allows terrorist groups to do so much publicly and privately.

Public terrorist websites are ideal for spreading propaganda, and recruiting or at least enticing interest of potential new members. They operate similarly to sites belonging to designated hate groups, and some qualifying as both, the Southern Poverty Law Center maps, for ease of tracking. The propaganda piece of their websites helps them explain their ideology as well as create justification for their attacks, especially in instances where violence was apparent. The language used is careful and cautious, to help rid the readers’ possible negative perceptions. Through these public sites, some also offer places for fundraising through donations, for enthusiastic supporters who may be unable to help actively. These sites and uses of the Internet may be harder to scan, but this privacy allows individuals within the United States to make connections with FTO that were previously not accessible without this technology.

Before the modern terrorism of today, individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) were almost never American born. However, in the 21st century, we have seen increases in domestic terrorist attacks perpetrated by American born citizens claiming FTO affiliation. Roser, Nagdy, and Ritchie (2018), economists researching global development through statistics credit the Islamic State (ISIS) to be one of the first large-scale terrorist organizations to harness the power of the Internet to recruit and commission individuals to enact attacks. Christopher Cornell appears in our dataset with positive FTO affiliation. He is a native of Cincinnati, OH who converted to Islam in his late teens. At this time, he began using the Internet to connect on social media platforms with believed members of ISIS and quickly started to show support for their cause. Cornell was advised by his online connections to purchase assault-style rifles and commit an attack against government official in Washington, D.C. This online correspondence is part his tie and claim to an FTO.

In cases with anti-government rationale, it became especially important that we thoroughly searched for transcripts, files, or State speech that linked these perpetrators to an FTO even if they had never been out of the country. The perpetrators also do not have to have formal claim of FTO. Such as in the case with Christopher Cornell, the brief correspondences and intent to support ISIS is considered enough to be coded as “Yes” with “Foreign Affiliation” within our dataset. As the years advance in our dataset, cases of similar nature continue to increase, giving support to the idea the Internet has become a major resource for recruitment for FTO in the United States.

– Tia Turner


Board, The Editorial. “The New Radicalization of the Internet.” The New York Times. November 24, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018.

Maura Conway; Terrorism and the Internet: New Media—New Threat?, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 59, Issue 2, 1 April 2006, Pages 283–298,

Roser, Alex, Mohamed Nagdy, and Hannah Ritchie. (2018) – “Terrorism”. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]

Weimann, Gabriel. How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2004.

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