Psychological and Behavioral Examinations of Online Terrorism

Psychological and Behavioral Examinations of Online Terrorism

Sheryl Prentice (Lancaster University, UK) and Paul J. Taylor (Lancaster University, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4053-3.ch009


It has long been recognised that terrorists make use of the internet as one of many means through which to further their cause. This use of the internet has fuelled a large number of studies seeking to understand terrorists' use of online environments. This chapter provides an overview of current understandings of online terrorist behavior, coupled with an outline of the qualitative and quantitative approaches that can and have been adopted to research this phenomenon. The chapter closes with a discussion of the contentious issue of ethics in online terrorism research. The aim of the chapter is to equip readers with the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct their own research into terrorists' online behavior, taking best ethical practices into consideration when doing so.
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Before turning to the main content of the chapter, it is first of importance to understand what is meant when one refers to online terrorism. With this in mind, this section of the chapter will explore differing definitions of terrorism and discuss their suitability for the description of contemporary online terrorist behavior. Numerous scholars have discussed the difficulty of arriving at one overarching definition of terrorism, given the complexity of this phenomenon (Dedeoglu, 2003; Schmid, 2004; Weinberg, Pedahzur & Hirsch-Hoefler, 2004). Indeed, according to Ruby (2002), this complexity is due, in part, as to whether one is attempting to define terrorism in legal, moral or behavioral terms. Defining terrorism in online environments suffers from the same inherent difficulty as defining terrorism in offline environments in this regard.

Terrorism is legally defined in the UK within the Terrorism Act 2000 as:

An action that endangers or causes serious violence to a person/people; causes serious damage to property; or seriously interferes or disrupts an electronic system. The use or threat must be designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public and is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause. (HMG, 2011, p. 108).

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