Social media is like an indiscriminate vacuum that consumes everything in its path, and while some have the foresight and intent to avoid being sucked in, others welcome their demise with open arms.
The vacuum ISIS created has proven time and time again that it’s powerful, and recently news broke that the FBI had arrested a 15-year-old boy from Philadelphia after he was inspired by ISIS via social media and planned to carryout an attack on Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S.
“The minor was inspired by [ISIS] and sought to conduct a detailed homeland attack which included multiple attackers, firearms, and multiple explosives, targeting a foreign dignitary at a high-profile event,” according to a joint intelligence bulletin by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, which was referenced in an ABC News report.
And the most alarming part: “The minor obtained explosives instructions and further disseminated these instructions through social media.” To know that such information is readily available is alarming.
The fact is that social media can be used to not only gather information on something as radical as making explosives, but also inspire individuals or groups to physically take action. Fortunately this time the plot was foiled during the “aspirational” stage, but that’s not always the case.
This incident is another prime example of just how important social media threat assessment is to prevent attacks, and how implementing proven counter-messaging strategies can ultimately thwart radicalization before it takes place.
Here’s the way I look at it: If terrorist organizations were farmers they could scatter seeds across a field knowing that some won’t ever sprout, others will dry to a crisp as seedlings, and a portion will grow naturally into healthy plants with strong roots (obviously depending on the plants and the environment). Comparing that to social media, the more seeds we allow to be planted in a fertile setting without disrupting the process, the more radicalized plants will form. And more plants could equate to serious danger.