Social Media – The Good, The Bad and The Islamic State

clintThere’s no getting around it: social media is ubiquitous. Utilized to stay connected to loved ones and classmates, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and msi%20global%20b%2Cidx%3A1-1-1" rel="nofollow">LinkedIn have evolved to educate, advertise, and sell. In a recent Forbes article, Rick Smith says social media is now mandatory for success: “The advent of LinkedIn and other social media tools, and the resulting explosion in our capacity to manage and benefit from larger and larger social circles, may very well be one of the most important outcomes of the digital age.”

But social media has its dark side, and is being used as a nightmarish tool to threaten national security. Recently, a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted a list with the names, photos, and addresses of 100 troops they felt were behind strikes on ISIS targets; the group called for attacks from “lone wolf” sympathizers against these troops and their families. According to CNN: “It is believed that ISIS members and sympathizers have been scouring social media sites trying to glean as much information as possible about service members, and have even threatened the spouses of military personnel online.”

ISIS is also targeting and recruiting children through social media. Analysts believe young girls may be attracted by the thought of romance with a “warrior,” while growing boys may be drawn to the visions of a more adventuresome life. The deceiving promotional images youths may be exposed to via social media and YouTube can paint a glamorous picture of the “lifestyle.” And tragically, youths’ immaturity combined with naïveté makes marketing to them easy. Recently, three British teenage girls were captured on video, believed to have traveled to Syria to join the group, and three teenage boys from northwest London were released on bail after their alleged plans to travel to Syria led to their arrest.

ISIS seems to be skilled at virality (waves of social media) – though mercifully they enjoy only limited success, notes J.M. Berger in a recent article in The Atlantic. “For instance, its massive investment in social media, including a team of roughly 2,000 dedicated accounts tweeting in a coordinated manner, succeeds primarily because it generates just barely enough activity to get the attention of the mainstream media, which then creates the perception that ISIS has a larger base of supporters than it does,” he says. “ISIS’s advantage comes from its ability to bridge the space between a social network and network news, a leap fueled largely by its extreme sadism and its choice of media-friendly victims.”

Social Media and an International Assignment

In regard to those relocating overseas, yes, social media is probably the most convenient way to communicate. Just know that any geotagged photos and information posted about one’s whereabouts will compromise privacy. According to a recent NBC news report, the Defense Department has already gone to lengths to educate service members on the risks of using social media: “Its recommendations – deactivate location data, don’t talk about coming travel, don’t accept friend requests from anyone you don’t trust – are similar to those that security experts advise for just about everyone, but with the stakes potentially higher.”

On the other hand, Angela McCormick Ricketts, author of “No Man’s War” asks: “Why should families bend to fear and stop sharing online when social media has helped them get through 14 years of nonstop war?” The decision and extent of social media involvement is an issue each must answer on his or her own.