There is too much focus on online radicalisation, says Joe Whittaker, when this is just one of the factors that make someone become a terrorist. In fact, Whittaker’s research shows that terrorists who use the internet are less successful in achieving their goal than those who stay offline. He will defend his dissertation on 19 January.
Whittaker discovered that internet use can be a hindrance to terrorists. He used data to research whether their plan, for instance an attack or travelling to Syria, succeeded, and discovered that terrorists were less successful if they had used the internet. ‘A woman used an IS flag as her profile photo on Facebook and wrote on her page about how great IS is. A Facebook friend reported this and Facebook in turn notified the FBI. They began an investigation into that individual.’
For his research Whittaker analysed data on 201 IS terrorists in the US. He used a number of criteria to determine whether to include them in his research. The terrorists had to be identified as a member of IS, charges had to have been brought against them, they had to have been in contact with other members of IS and they had to be part of a plan. A plan could mean an attack or travelling to Syria or Iraq.