Is self-radicalization a threat to the U.S?

It seems as though social media is taking on a more central role in terrorism. Tashfeen Malik, one of the suspects in the San Bernardino massacre, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook before the attacks. Hilary Clinton said the Islamic State has become “the most effective recruiter in the world,” and urged social media companies to work alongside the government to shut down terrorism before it happens. President Obama has said that the shootings in San Bernardino, if not directed by ISIS, were at least inspired by the group, and self-radicalization appears to be the latest motive in the investigation.

David Schanzer is the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. He writes:

“Yes, self-radicalization of violent extremists – no matter what ideology motivate them – are threats to the United States. But the real question we should be asking ourselves is: How large a threat is this compared to other national security, public safety, and other threats we face in our daily lives? The answer to this question is much more complicated. If we look at the number of deaths resulting from self-radicalized extremists in the United States since 9/11 – the conclusion should be the threat is small. About 93 fatalities have been caused by this kind of violence over the past 14 years, according to the New America Foundation. That is less than the number of homicides that take place every three days in the United States. If we look, instead, at the fear and anger these incidents generate, then the amount of harm (and therefore the threat) is much greater. These impacts are real and they should not be discounted, so it may make sense for society to dedicate a disproportional amount of resources to stopping extremist political violence than the number of deaths suggests. But we should also keep in mind that the strategy of terrorism is for weak groups and individuals to magnify their power through the spectacular use of violence and achieve political outcomes they could not produce through the normal political process. Terrorists want us to overreact and take actions that harm our long term interests and advance theirs. The Iraq War, the CIA torture program, and Donald Trump’s proposal to create religious-based tests for entry into the United States are good examples of overreactions to terrorism that will hurt us in the long run.”

Michael Stefanone is an associate professor of communication at the University at Buffalo. His research focuses on the intersection between social psychology and technology, specializing in computer-mediated communication and social media. He writes:

“When considering the role of social media in recruitment for terrorism, it is unclear how effective these tools are for recruitment, regardless of political rhetoric and the popular press. I’m unaware of evidence supporting its effectiveness, and it is naïve to think corporations that operate social media websites can ‘shut down’ terrorism, as is being suggested by some politicians today. The instances of recruitment and self-radicalization covered by the media certainly are sensational and get a lot of attention, but we can’t predict who ultimately decides to engage in terrorist acts.

Social media enable individuals to communicate with global audiences with very low cost. So the probability that extremist messages resonate with audience members is likely increasing, and it is well known that carefully constructed messages can influence attitudes and behavior. For example, the incident at Planned Parenthood in Colorado illustrates how campaign rhetoric in the U.S. apparently shaped the shooter’s attitudes and influenced his decision to take action. Still, behavior like this can’t be predicted.

Social media also enable individuals with similar beliefs to connect. Humans have always been attracted to like-minded others, but when we communicate online information about our identities is often filtered out or obscured, which influences our communicative behavior. The outcome is often more aggressive behavior, which may be compounded by a shift toward more risky or extreme positions when we communicate in groups. You can see these processes manifest in comments to news articles online, or to politically motivated posts from your friends on your Facebook pages. The combination of increased anonymity and shared group identity enabled by social media facilitate polarization. However, when it comes to self-radicalization, technology probably isn’t the determining factor here. Social media is just the latest evolution of modern communication tools, and it’s easy to blame these tools. The mechanics of social influence and persuasion, along with the geopolitical landscape today, are far more complex ideas worthy of consideration.”

Today’s Question: Is self-radicalization a threat to the U.S?

  • Gary F

    Ask the families of the dead in San Bernardino.

  • Sue de Nim

    A much bigger threat than terrorism to America as we know it is fear-and-hate-mongering overreactions to terrorism. Tyrants typically rise to power by identifying a principal enemy of the people, stoking fear and hate toward that enemy, and promising to unite the people in the struggle to defeat that enemy. Think of Hitler and the Jews, Stalin and capitalism, Mao and the “capitalist running dogs,” and dozens or hundreds of other examples from history. Let’s not let Trump and the Muslims become another example of the phenomenon.

    • AbdiAhman

      I am isalmaphobic…phobic about their beheading children, raping and slaving women, mass killing of handicapped kids as they did last week..yes, I am islamaphobic and proud of it. If you are Muslim and want to be accepted in the USA as I was, then denounce Shariah law and stop going to the imams that spread the calaphate ideology. in 2014, 8 of 10 mosques preach traditonal Shariah and endorse the calaphate. Why are so many radicals found from MN? Is it because we have too many wild Swedes? No sir, its because we took in thousands of Somali without careful vetting and gave them a free ride at your tax payers expense. We have 50,000 homeless uncared for Military vets because there is not enough money and services for them yet, we can take in thousands of new Syrian refugees? it is all so stupid.

      • Sue de Nim

        You are seriously misinformed. Most of the radicalized Somalis from Minnesota were born here; it had nothing to do with how carefully they were vetted. Their (tax-paying) immigrant parents did not teach them militant Islam and are horrified that they embraced it. They found it attractive only because they didn’t feel accepted by the wider society (including, btw, other African Americans).

        The truth is, Islamophobia leads to more radicalization and plays into the radicals’ hand. ISIS and their ilk are waging an asymmetrical war. Their strategy is to provoke the West into overreacting. As long as we don’t overreact, we have the sympathy of moderate Muslims around the world. The more we do, the more moderate Muslims will be susceptible to radicalization. (That’s the key reason the Iraq invasion was such a disaster: it was an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks and led to the creation of ISIS.) We win the war against terrorism when we occupy the moral high ground and don’t sink to their level of hatred.

  • AbdiAhman

    This question is in lock step with the White House’s stance that terrorist jihad Islamists is over rated..so what they do is call it something new i.e., “self_ radicalization” This is radicalization from what? From Christianity? From Hinduism? From Judaeism? Hmmmm. It took a year for the media , minus Fox news, to identify the biggest lie of the year which was fact checked at Black Lies Matter’s mantra of “hands up-don’t shoot.” It never happened yet hundreds stiill use that lie created by the accomplice to avoid complicity in the Fergussen death. Even Hillary stood silent at their meeting when they sang their chant and agreed with them__ wow, a year later??
    This is the same with the “self radicalization” term.
    So called self radicalization is simply this_ an Islamist that chooses to abide with “traditional Islam” as in back in the 7th century type of ideology yet don’t forget, gangs fight each other while traditional jihadists proclaim to destry the west..that’s all of us folks and waiting until another 9-11 happens just so the media can then report, “ok_ok_ ok_ the Islamist jihadies now__ kill more than car crashes and gang shootings do..lets take it serious.” and that fact won’t make it any easier for us when the next San Bernadino or San Diego attacks happen in our_ neighborhood. Thank god, MN has less restrictive carry laws than the stupid California has on gun carry laws.
    So, this whole today’s question seems to be designed to test the waters of listeners’ opinion on the progressive’s new stance -or should I say, sitting on the pot stance_ on excusing obama and Hillary’s useless effort to do anything about the Islamist jihadists.
    Better to ask , why do we allow supporters of jihad to live among us and not deport them? Why does our WhiteHouse deny our immigration officials to ask about one’s social media IF they are Muslim? Political correctness caused the Sanbernadino massacre. Same folks that called Ft Hood massacre a workplace violence event for years until recently acknowleging..its OK to admit the truth but only after the election_ wow_ that sounds like the same cover up thing on the horrific shooting, spoken from mayor Rham Emanuel in Chicago_ Obama’s best buddy.
    Worls wide polls show 26% of Muslims want Shariah Law in MN and those are the ones that also think suicide bombing is OK if needed.
    We need more reformed Muslims and less illegal male adult “so called” refugees.

    • Yanotha Twangai

      Your comment is in “lock step” with those who want to leverage Americans’ growing islamaphobia to gain power and influence. It also plays into the hands of the terrorists, who would like nothing better than to provoke us to overreact and thus prove their point that “the west” is at war with Islam. They rejoice whenever American Muslims experience hostility and persecution for their faith, because alienated people are easier to recruit.

      • AbdiAhman

        OMG, your comment is so far off its not even funny. Islamist traditonalists are at war with us_ they made that clear back in 1990’s starting with bombing the US Cole. Serious people don’t give a ____ ass what ISIS leaders think. What everyone needs to know is the simple truth, Terrorists believe their are killing to PLEASE their Allah and nothing America does o does not do is going to change their minds. Poor Obama is so naive or deluded to think closing Gitmo will stop their recruiting? OMG, he is the worst and most delusional President I have seen in my lifetime…releasing / exchanging 5 terrorists for a GD deserter that left his brothers in arms at risk. ISIS can rejoice as you say- as if you are there among them to see that? or you ever were in the sand pit? not_ your comments are just naive.

      • AbdiAhman

        Why does MPR always use your quips in their feeder lines on the front page for Question comments? Do they pay you enough to sound too much like Hillary? 🙂

        • Yanotha Twangai

          As far as I know, the selection of those quotes is made by a Disqus algorithm, not by humans sifting through comments. I receive no payment for anything I post online, other than the satisfaction of knowing that someone is standing up for truth and reasonableness against paranoid zealotry like you’ve been posting.