Nov 18, 2008

Aardvark’s and Avatars

Posted by in category: defense

There continues to be some discussion and rejection of the idea that terrorists would be able to exploit new technology platforms such as social networking and virtual worlds. In a recent post the blogger Abu Aardvark (aka Marc Lynch from GW University) goes some way in debunking ideas surrounding terrorist use of social networking, Wiki’s and virtual worlds. He further states that Al Qaeda is now behind the curve in using the area of user-generated content and interactivity. While, the aardvark’s media analysis relating to ‘al-Qaeda outreach’ appears to be sound I think he misses a fundamental point about terrorists and technology.

The defining feature of terrorism and technology is its adaptive quality. It is highly unlikely that individual terrorists or terrorist groups would exactly replicate the mainstream functions of the technology abu aardvark highlights in his post. It is more likely they would take certain elements from the various innovations and mesh them together or otherwise distort them. So an al-Qaeda Facebook isn’t going to happen anytime soon but using the system to identify IDF soldiers for possible assassination already has. Similarly an ‘AQThirdlife’, which replicates the virtual world Second Life seems unlikely but using some of its key features still seems probable. The virtual money transfer aspect continues to be a high on most peoples list of concerns (this is discussed in a recent SSRN paper written by Stephen Landman, Funding Bin Laden’s Avatar: A proposal for the regulation of Virtual Hawalas, which he has kind enough to share with me). Aardvark’s point about an AQThird life also fails to account for phenomena such as the virtual caliphate, which is running in the UK, where users log into areas to see and hear sermons by dead or expelled radical preachers — there continues to be a market for extremism and virtual exposure to it is potentially more powerful than real exposure.

As ever the central point is that given rapid and increasing virtualization flexible thinking and planning is required to conceptualize the next form of terrorist threat — blogs appear to be a great enabler of this practice.

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