In a 2014 article, Marcu and Baleanu sought to explore the role of social media in promoting and aiding terrorist groups. As addressed by Marcu and Baleanu, the rise in social media has led to new ways for terrorist groups to communicate with potential terrorists. This unintended consequence of social media has drastically increased the likelihood that a lone-wolf attack will occur, and has widely increased the prospect of individuals (primarily from western countries) traveling abroad to fight with terrorist groups. Although governments throughout the world have worked hard to combat the growing presence of terrorists on social media, Marcu and Baleanu argue that terrorist groups regularly use social media in order to recruit new members. Yet, multiple theories have emerged as to why individuals join terrorist groups and what causes terrorism. Despite these theories, no theory has conclusively determined what causes terrorism and what causes individuals to join terrorist groups. In order to develop a better understanding of terrorists, Marcu and Baleanu explored the characteristics of terrorist profiles on social media websites. The purpose of this exploration was to determine what characteristics terrorists exhibit, and how these characteristics help terrorist organizations to attract new followers.
Description of the Research Problem
Social media has become increasing popular in areas throughout the world. Yet, social media websites can serve as a large database for terrorist organizations to attract new members. In order to determine what characteristics terrorists using social media employ, and how these characteristics relate to current social media users, the researchers conducted a study (Marcu and Baleanu, 2014). The researchers hypothesized that terrorist profiles would target more individuals from regions with a medium to high socio-economic status. This hypothesis was heavily based on the fact that people from underdeveloped countries often do not have access to social media websites due to financial constraints. The researchers further hypothesized that terrorists recruiting others would be more likely to be young males. This hypothesis is based on the fact that many terrorist organizations place an emphasis on the role of males. Therefore, the researchers believed it would be more likely that a male terrorist would be better suited to recruit another male.
Research Methodology & Results
In assessing what characteristics terrorists display on social media websites, the researchers used a meta analysis of three studies. The three studies used for this meta analysis include a 2006 study performed by Teodor Frunzeti, a 2012 study conducted by Pingdom, and finally another 2012 study performed by Patel (Marcu and Baleanu, 2014). The researchers looked at each researcher’s initial sample, and coded the variables (age, gender, social status, education, etc.) accordingly. The researchers then used SPSS to calculate frequencies and determine what characteristics terrorists exhibited and how these characteristics compared to other social media users.
In exploring the age of terrorists, Marcu and Baleanu (2014) concluded that most terrorists on social media tend to be between the ages of 40-50. Although terrorist groups often focus their efforts on recruiting younger individuals, these individuals are primarily used for battle purposes rather than recruitment purposes. Marcu and Baleanu further address that recruiting individuals under the age of 20 may be frowned upon. The researchers believe that the lack of interest in recruiting individuals from this population may be attributed to their immaturity and inability to commit themselves to the cause long-term.
The role of gender presented mixed findings. Although many terrorist groups believe that men are responsible for fighting wars, they often use women as a source of intelligence. Yet, Marcu and Baleanu (2014) acknowledge that there is a growing divide in terrorist organizations regarding the role of women. The fact that women traditionally were not allowed to fight in wars or engaging in battle makes the prospect of using women less suspicious and less likely to be detected. Yet as women play a more active role in terrorist organizations, Marcu and Baleanu believe more terrorist groups will begin targeting more women on social media. In supporting this, the authors argue that more than half of all people on social media websites are in fact women, making social media websites a large database terrorist organizations can use to attract new members.
In exploring education and social status, Marcu and Baleanu (2014) conclude that terrorists tend to be educated. In applying this to social media users in the West, Marcu and Baleanu argues that the vast majority of the population is educated, making this population a desirable choice for recruiting potential terrorists. However, Marcu and Baleanu further acknowledge that terrorist organizations may also target individuals that do not have an education, in order to carry out terrorist attacks. These individuals may be more willing than others to take the fall for the organization’s attempted attack if the attack is detected prior to begin executed. However, Marcu and Baleanu could not determine how social status affects potential terrorists and terrorist organizations. Although many individuals that have some degree of control over terrorist organizations tend to have money, the researchers were unable to establish a sense of generazability within the data, primarily due to the fact that the cost of living varies by region.
Contributions to Literature
In assessing the contributions to literature, Marcu and Baleanu demonstrated that many individuals on social media are within the ideal target age range of terrorist organizations. In applying this finding, it could be argued that individuals within a certain age and educational level are more likely to be targeted for certain roles within a terrorist organization. Furthermore, individuals that lack a formal education but are within the desired age range may be targeted for a different role, specifically to carry out an attack (Marcu and Baleanu, 2014). However, the researchers could not effectively conclude the role gender plays in recruiting terrorists. This was in part attributed to the fact that extremists tend to have different perceptions of the woman’s role in combat. As a result, defining this role is heavily contingent on the individual organization.
Critique of the Article
Marcu and Baleanu (2014) begin in addressing the history of the internet and how it has evolved. However, the authors never directly discuss when or how terrorist groups moved towards social media websites to recruit potential members. The inclusion of this information would have been beneficial, as social media has been popular for a number of years. Furthermore, it would have been helpful to know how many individuals terrorist groups target at once, what specific social media websites they use, and whether or not these social media websites have a policy preventing this behavior. It also would have been helpful if the authors addressed the country of origin that most terrorists are coming from. This information could have been used to determine whether or not certain countries should be establishing stricter social media policies.
Although Marcu and Baleanu (2014) failed to include some information, they provide an in-depth presentation of characteristics terrorists exhibit and how these characteristics match social media websites. However, the authors never fully discussed the role of religion in their research. From this perspective it is unknown whether or not individuals trying to connect with terrorist groups via social media are more likely to be Islamic, have recently converted to Islam, or another religious domination. The inclusion of this information would have further been helpful in determining how religious affiliation affects terrorism.
Even though Marcu and Baleanu (2014) fail to discuss certain variables, the authors conclude in highlighting how this information can be used for future studies and for social media websites. Furthermore, Marcu and Baleanu recommend that governments use this information in order to establish policies that help to prevent or detect the use of social media websites by terrorists attempting to recruit new participants.