Nav: Home

Using social media to weaken the wrath of terror attacks

November 14, 2018

Governments and police forces around the world need to beware of the harm caused by mass and social media following terror events. In a new report, leading counter-terrorism experts from around the world - including Michigan State University faculty - offer guidance to authorities to better manage the impacts of terror attacks by harnessing media communication.

"With social media, not only is the information immediate, but the public's access to information and conversations shape how an event is talked about," said Steven Chermak, MSU professor of criminal justice report contributor. "This can be dangerous when we can't discern fact from a panicked reaction."

The report, Minutes to Months, or M2M, assessed terror attacks in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, with expertise from MSU, Western University in Canada, University of New South Wales, Sydney, and was spearheaded by Cardiff University's Crime and Security Research Institute, or CSRI.

By reviewing all the published research on the role of media and social media in the wake of terror attacks, together with detailed case studies of specific incidents, M2M reveals insights on how media and social media coverage can increase the public harms of terrorism, and what works to mitigate such effects.

The M2M report provides recommendations to help authorities develop and execute strategies to manage the online fallout from a terrorist incident. The work was commissioned by the Five Country Ministerial Countering Extremism Working Group, which includes the governments of the UK, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The research team found that terrorist attacks create shockwaves after the initial incident, as a wide range of voices compete through mainstream and social media. In fact, M2M found that communications after a terrorist incident often lead to a spike in hate crimes, extremism, and prompt damaging disinformation and rumors.

"People only know what they see or read, so the immediate panic social media - and then on the news - perpetuates rumors and creates fear. This is exactly what terrorists want," Chermak said. "The ongoing news in the days and weeks following attacks - and opinions and emotions through media - can continue the terror cycle."

Governments, police and others involved in public safety need to be ready to offer accurate, regular information to minimise negative fallout, the researchers said.

Terrorist violence, as the report explained, is intended to elicit intense and vivid reactions. Thus, by neglecting how to manage post-event situations is a current weak point in many governmental counter-terrorism frameworks.

The increasing volume of communication channels allows different groups to voice alternative interpretations of the same event, causing multiple narratives and accounts circulating in the post-event environment.

Martin Innes, director of the CSRI and lead author of M2M, recently issued a report that identified the systematic use of fake social media accounts spreading disinformation. The accounts, linked to Russia, amplified the public impacts of the four terrorist attacks that took place in the UK in 2017: Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.

"Over the past five years or so, both the mechanics and dynamics of terrorism and how it is reported via media sources, have altered dramatically," Innes said. "Over the same period, the logics of media and the information environment have been fundamentally transformed."

Because of these changes Innes believes that changing communication is the key to the post-attack wake of terror.

"Taking a pragmatic view, that despite the best efforts of police and security services, not all future plots will be prevented, developing an understanding of how any harms can be mitigated is an important undertaking."
This report was made available to funders and internal stakeholders in July 2018 before it was published to the public on October 24, 2018.

Michigan State University

Related Social Media Articles:

Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.
Using social media to understand the vaccine debate in China
Vaccine acceptance is a crucial public health issue, which has been exacerbated by the use of social media to spread content expressing vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine misinformation and social media
People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who rely on traditional media, according to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
How social media makes breakups that much worse
Even those who use Facebook features like unfriending, unfollowing, blocking and Take a Break still experience troubling encounters with ex-partners online, a new study shows.
Teens must 'get smart' about social media
New research indicates that social media is leading young adolescent girls and boys down a worrying path towards developing body image issues and eating disorder behaviours - even though they are smartphone savvy.
Social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents
New research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that social media, particularly platforms with a strong focus on image posting and viewing, is associated with disordered eating in young adolescents.
STD crowd-diagnosis requests on social media
Online postings seeking information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on the social media website Reddit were analyzed to see how often requests were made for a crowd-diagnosis and whether the requested diagnosis was for a second opinion after seeing a health care professional.
Cynical social media voices can erode trust in news media
Amid rising concerns about low public trust in mainstream media institutions, a Rutgers study found that real-life and online social interactions can strongly influence a person's trust in newspaper, TV and online journalism -- but when it comes to online interactions, cynical views are the most influential.
Social media use by adolescents linked to internalizing behaviors
A new study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report high levels of internalizing behaviors compared to adolescents who do not use social media at all.
Social media stress can lead to social media addiction
Social network users risk becoming more and more addicted to social media platforms even as they experience stress from their use.
More Social Media News and Social Media Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at