Islamic State and the state of social media

by John Darvall

A British born jihadist beheads an American journalist in a self-declared Islamic State to affirm a caliphate by posting it on social media.

Those who use social media, and include myself in this, are wondering what these platforms are all about this week. The use of social media by Islamic State, IS as they are now called, is quite brilliant. Many companies and celebrities would love the attention and ‘penetration’ that IS are achieving in getting their message and methods out to the world. This is a world IS want to destroy or at the very least return to their 14th Century version of Islam. The juxtaposition of using the very apex of the 21st century communication to tell the world they are wrong and IS is right cannot be lost on them, or us.

This is the biggest issue with social media and, as has already been proven by the internet, social media is fast becoming out of control as it is being used for purposes unimagined and is now beyond the control of its creators. As fast as IS have an account closed they open another; its like a cyber version of wack-a-mole. Advocates of Twitter and Facebook, who are public companies with shareholders and business models and bottom lines to achieve, have been and are being duped. I include the BBC in this.

It would seem implausible that any BBC presenter, paid from the public purse on a network that does not advertise at all, would be allowed to say ”call me on your Blackberry or Apple mobile ‘phone, using your Vodafone provider or you can use your BT landline and your Currys ‘phone to make that call, or you can even use Royal Mail to write to me using your Parker pen and Basildon Bond paper”? They are all businesses looking for custom and profit, just like Facebook and Twitter yet social media is exempt.

Television viewers and radio listeners are regularly invited to tweet, post or like on Twitter and Facebook. It seems okay for everyone in the media to freely advertise social media providers, encourage their use, to create and enhance the platform of millions of connected users and, by endorsement, imply it’s a good thing.

Here is the reality from this weeks shocking news. A simple click of a link on social media can take you to a video of a kitten in an oversized wine glass looking cute, a drunk Russian trying to stand up in the snow or an innocent man, a son, a journalist being murdered by someone whose twisted view of his faith makes him ‘believe’ his actions are just. You are a click away from the worst of humanity, faith, belief, and what you may know or feel is right or wrong. You have no control over this unless you opt out completely. Social Media has no control either and IS know this.

Sharing views, keeping followers or friends informed is one thing but social media is fast becoming something more and it has now contributed to the murder of James Foley. Social Media gives IS a platform and that platform allows them to ‘share’ their message, ‘post’ their actions, their followers to ‘retweet’ it and there is nothing we can do about it. There is nothing social media providers, these listed companies with shareholders and profits to make can do about it.

So the question is ‘would James Foley still be alive if social media didn’t exist?’. If the act of his brutal murder couldn’t be ‘shared’ or ‘tweeted’ or ‘retweeted’ would IS have done it?

The conclusion could be to beware the advocates of social media, those who claim it is the future and we must embrace it, do more on it, make it part of our every day lives, plead for tweets or posts. Most of all beware of those who have the need for ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. These are some of the many lessons of this week.

One last thing. The bravery of James Foley shown in his face against the masked face of ‘Jihadi John’ who was unwilling to show the world his face by hiding in the cowardice of non identity and clearly lacking in any confidence that his ‘god’ believes in him tells us much about this version of Islam and IS.

N.B

I am aware I have used Social Media to publish this blog. That irony is not lost too.

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