New techniques emerge to track terror threats on social media

Terrorists have long used the Internet for their own personal gain, including recruitment, propaganda, and fundraising.

A recent report by the Department of Homeland Security says terror groups are increasingly using social media to gain a wider online following, share operational and tactical information, and link to their extremist websites.

Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland spoke to cybersecurity expert Johan Bollen about terror tactics used by groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

“This is a considerable threat, a lot of people are not fully appreciating the scale of the social media environment … the recruitment and communication efforts taking place on social media is on a scale that is both baffling and scary at the same time,” said Bollen, an associate professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University.

Social networks are allowing terrorists to more easily reach their target audiences, according to The Wilson Center policy think tank.

“This is a very powerful tool in their hands. If you think about the number of youngsters … on social media that are highly susceptible to that kind of messaging, you can imagine the thrust and efforts behind these kind of recruitment campaigns,” said Bollen.

Terror groups are trying to be more creative. They will commandeer hashtags, such as #WorldCup2014 during last year’s competition, for outreach and propaganda.

Understanding this new reality, industry experts are trying to get ahead of the terrorists online.

Bollen, who is the founder and CEO of the analytical firm Guidewave Consulting, says science could help with the battle online. “There has been quite a bit of development in terms of developing algorithms that can track not just text, but also intent – people’s psychological state as it evolves over time … there has been a lot of technological progress being made.”

He added that the algorithms “analyze very large-scale social media [by] reading the messages in terms of their specific content, key terms. Since most people now have several years of social media history behind them we essentially have timelines where we can track the evolving mood state of individuals.”

These types of warning signs could help law enforcement officials prevent those radicalized from launching attacks.