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Civil Society, the Internet and Terrorism: case studies from Northern Ireland

By Paul Reilly

Abstract

The rapid penetration of information and communication technologies in advanced industrialised societies has created new opportunities and dangers for governments and civil society. Civil society can be defined as the ‘space of uncoerced human association and also the set of relational networks formed for the sake of family, faith, interest and ideology that fill this space’ (Walzer, 1995:7). The Internet can bestow a degree of organisational coherence upon those groups outside the political establishment. These groups are often unable to orchestrate a campaign of political protest using the conventional mass media, which typically reflect the interests of larger sections of civil society. Terrorism can be defined as violence used to articulate a political message. Contemporary terrorists use the Internet like marginalised elements of ‘civil’ society to communicate with sympathetic diasporas, disseminate propaganda and issue statements unfettered by the ideological refractions of the mass media. This chapter will argue that terrorist utility of the Internet has two dimensions. Terrorists will use the Internet to communicate ‘overtly’ like other civil society actors. They will use websites to increase organisational coherence and to expound their political ideologies. Terrorist organisations may also use the Internet for ‘covert communication’. They will use information and communications technologies to plan and perpetrate acts of terror. This chapter analyses several websites linked to Northern Irish terrorist organisations, to gauge whether websites related to political actors deemed ‘uncivil’ by many will vary significantly in form from other societal groups using the web. The study suggests that websites relating to terrorist groups not only do not differ markedly from those of ‘civil’ groups, but also do not seem to offer any new dimension of terrorist threat.The rapid penetration of information and communication technologies in advanced industrialised societies has created new opportunities and dangers for governments and civil society. Civil society can be defined as the ‘space of uncoerced human association and also the set of relational networks formed for the sake of family, faith, interest and ideology that fill this space’ (Walzer, 1995:7). The Internet can bestow a degree of organisational coherence upon those groups outside the political establishment. These groups are often unable to orchestrate a campaign of political protest using the conventional mass media, which typically reflect the interests of larger sections of civil society. Terrorism can be defined as violence used to articulate a political message. Contemporary terrorists use the Internet like marginalised elements of ‘civil’ society to communicate with sympathetic diasporas, disseminate propaganda and issue statements unfettered by the ideological refractions of the mass media. This chapter will argue that terrorist utility of the Internet has two dimensions. Terrorists will use the Internet to communicate ‘overtly’ like other civil society actors. They will use websites to increase organisational coherence and to expound their political ideologies. Terrorist organisations may also use the Internet for ‘covert communication’. They will use information and communications technologies to plan and perpetrate acts of terror. This chapter analyses several websites linked to Northern Irish terrorist organisations, to gauge whether websites related to political actors deemed ‘uncivil’ by many will vary significantly in form from other societal groups using the web. The study suggests that websites relating to terrorist groups not only do not differ markedly from those of ‘civil’ groups, but also do not seem to offer any new dimension of terrorist threat.Peer reviewedPost prin

Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2006
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9684

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