A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the role that the media play in providing terrorists with a platform. Terrorists also use the media – both traditional and social – to burnish their “brand” and connect with one another. If the media doesn’t go to the terrorists, the terrorists go to the media, sending homemade videos to mainstream broadcast outlets. Osama bin Laden, for example, put out videos that showed him as he wanted to be portrayed, living austerely as a pure Islamist. It’s not much different from the way American politicians arrange photo ops on the campaign trail or air commercials that show them building Habitat Houses or ladling bowls in soup kitchens.
In addition to video, terrorists use other forms of technology to further their goals. On the Internet, they can find handy tips on tools of the trade, such as bomb-building. Many look to chatrooms for validation and some even have struck up online romances. The goal, of course, is not to engage in acts of violence for their own sake, or to meet one’s soul mate, but to create social or political change. Terrorism, like coverage on the 6 o’clock news, is just a tactic to achieve their ultimate goals. The question is how a free society balances free speech and the open dissemination of knowledge with the possibility that media forums or online information could be used for illegal or destructive purposes. It’s an issue that one of my novel’s protagonists might find ironic.