Terrorism in 140 characters.
This morning the Islamic state released a recording of the execution of British aid worker Alan Henning. The 47 year old volunteer was taken by Islamic State militants shortly after arriving for his fourth aid mission in Syria last December. The footage shows Henning dressed in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling next to a black-clothed militant who spoke with a British accent. After delivering a short speech, Henning’s throat is slit by the militant as the camera fades to black, afterwards there is a shot of Henning’s body with his severed head placed on his back. The video then turns to threats against the life of another captive, Abdul Rahman Kassig.
Henning is the fourth hostage to be beheaded on camera by Islamic State militants. Footage of his execution was posted online on video hosting sites and within hours information regarding his death was rapidly disseminated across the internet.
The actions of the Islamic State signal that we now live in a new age of terrorism. The enemy is no-longer the Jihadist burning flags and shooting guns into the air halfway around the world. He is now on our social media, our twitter and Facebook feeds, spreading his message of hate and fear to a global audience in a manner that would have been impossible just 10 years ago.
By invading our online spaces, the Jihadist has turned his conflict with the world into a true war on all fronts. Never before have fundamentalist recruitment campaigns been so expansive, diverse and far reaching in their impact. Until recently, the Islamic State had an active presence on twitter, even going so far as to hijack football (soccer) hashtags during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in order to perpetuate its message. Eventually, accounts associated with the group were blocked from twitter in an attempt at an Islamic State “blackout,” nevertheless, their ousting from the medium is testament to the effectiveness of their online campaign. Some estimates indicate that ISIS is currently recruiting up to 3,400 new followers per month. Though this figure cannot be explicitly attributed to ISIS’s social media presence, the existence and spread of various recruitment videos and other propaganda material through the internet has no doubt attracted followers to its cause.
However, the Islamic State twitter blackout also raises certain, extremely uncomfortable questions regarding censorship of social media. Yes, it is undeniable that the blocked accounts were spreading harmful and dangerous messages. However the blocked accounts also included any individuals who were considered “linked” to the organization. Where does the definition of “linked” allow the connection to end? And does that definition have the potential to stretch? Whenever any form of media is censored, the possibility of a slippery slope is present. The hard part now is not falling down that slope.
Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos Flickr Page
BBC News: Alan Henning ‘Killed by Islamic State’
U.S. News and World Report: Fighting Extremists One Tweet at a Time