Monday night, a suicide bomber took the lives of at least 22 people—including an 8-year-old girl—at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Almost instantly, images and video of the devastating attack overtook Twitter timelines and Facebook News Feeds. As natural and understandable a response to horrific events as that might be, it also threatens to amplify the chaos that terrorists intend.
Terrorists have always sought attention, and the age of social media has enabled them to find it with unprecedented breadth. They use social networks to recruit, to inspire, and to connect, but they also rely on social media bystanders—everyday, regular people—to spread the impacts of their terror further than they could themselves, and to confuse authorities with misinformation. That amplification encourages more terrorism, inspires copycats, and turns the perpetrators into martyrs. It also traumatizes the families of the murdered victims, as well as the public at large.
“In the last few years, this problem has become more acute and more complicated technically, practically, and ethically, with the acceleration of the news cycle and the advent of social media,” London School of Economics professor Charlie Beckett wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review last year, analyzing how social media and journalism amplify terrorist messaging.
Image courtesy of Wired.