Politicians Overreacted To Terrorist 'Threat' Online

from the moral-panic dept

It seems that with every new communications tool online, we get some politicians absolutely freaked out about how "terrorists" will use it to communicate, and how that must be stopped. In just the past few months, we've seen politicians freak out about terrorists supposedly using Second Life, YouTube and Twitter -- and how each of these need to be stopped. Every time this has come up, it has seemed pretty ludicrous for a variety of reasons. First, these are communication tools. They can be used for good or bad purposes -- but it seems pretty ridiculous to freak out over the fact that some might possibly use them for bad purposes. But, even more importantly, the idea that these tools would help "recruit" new terrorists seemed particularly silly. If someone is going to be convinced to become a terrorist based on a YouTube video, there's a bigger problem.

And, in fact, that's exactly what a new report is finding. The whole "freaking out about terrorists online" thing is totally overblown. The study found little evidence that terrorists were effectively recruiting people online, and even if they were, they found no conceivable way to stop such tools from being used by terrorists at all -- and pointed out how pointless it was to even try. At best, they would get some content taken down from a few websites, which would only serve to draw more attention to the content, which would quickly appear on other websites instead. But, of course, most politicians don't care. They need to create such moral panics so it looks like they're actually doing something to "protect the children" in order to get re-elected.

In the meantime, if they were really concerned about "terrorists" using technology, they might actually want to focus on getting the folks who hate us to use the technology even more. At least that's the feeling I get after reading this article about a Taliban leader and former Guantanamo prisoner, who's now obsessed with his iPhone. I have to admit, most of the article reads like an Onion-style parody ("'It's easy and modern and I love it,' Zaeef said as he pinched and pulled his fingers across the iPhone's touch screen last week. 'This is necessary in the world today. People want to progress.'"), but it does show that perhaps using enabling technology to allow people to better their lives, gets them a lot less focused on looking for ways to kill us.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    some old guy, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 8:29am


    You mean to tell me oppression promotes hate? Less oppression promotes less hate?

    I'm shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you. SHOCKED!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Man from Atlanta, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 8:33am

    Real Online Threat

    China anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 8:47am

    Mike has it wrong

    "It seems that with every new communications tool online, we get some politicians absolutely freaked out about how "terrorists" will use it to communicate . . . "

    No with every new communication tool online politicians see an opportunity to exploit irrational fear inorder to get press and hopefully ease reelection (remember job retention is the number one priority of a politician). If you think they actually believe most of this stuff, you are being far too pessimistic about thier smarts and far too optimistic about thier motives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    TheStuipdOne, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    Is it bad

    That I thought of the ingenious people who are using twitter to control things remotely, like lights and household appliances, turning into terrorists and using twitter to set off a bomb?

    Just picture it. Guy sets up twitter account as remote control for a bomb. Gets a lot of people to follow the twitter account. (Generally following as many people as possible can do that) Spew a bunch of hate messages through twitter. Then tweet "BOOM!" and the bomb goes off seconds later.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Kevin C., Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:41am

    Why do you hate children??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Guy, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    Do the terrorists use avatars in Second Life that look like themselves, or do they make their avatar their fantasy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 6:25pm

    Re: Is it bad

    Why waste your time with twitter when there are so many less expensive and easier to implement alternatives.

    Oh, wait you were being sarcastic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Easily Amused, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:34pm

    Re: Mike has it wrong

    Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Xiera, Mar 13th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    Lessons learned

    Really, the quote from Zaeef should tell us something significant about America's presence in the world. He's saying the development and spread of technology (American or otherwise) is good for everyone. His (presumed) actions seem to indicate an ill will towards America.

    Zaeef's comment emphasises what my previous understanding of international (particularly Arab) ill will towards America -- that it derives from cultural imperialism. It's interesting to note that Zaeef does not equate technology and culture, which seems to imply that there may be a way for American companies to do business abroad without being culturally imperialistic.

    It is also possible for the U.S. as a whole to remain a world power without being politically imperialistic (forcing democracy on others).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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