By Angela Ndagano
How well do I know my Facebook Friends? Is the Facebook group I am part of used to spread Terrorism propaganda? Who is posting strange videos on my wall? These are some of the questions every social media user should keep in mind as they go about their business. Terrorists are on Social media!
In 2012, a study conducted by Gabriel Weimann from the University of Haifa, a public Research university in Israel found that nearly 90% of organized terrorism on the internet takes place via social media. The study revealed that terror groups use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and internet forums to spread their messages and recruit members. The study further revealed that the social media was enabling the terror organizations to take initiatives by making 'Friend' requests, uploading video clips, and the like.
In the same year, a report by the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime, titled “The Use of Internet for terrorist purposes’’ revealed that Terrorist groups and their supporters use the Internet to recruit, finance, train and incite followers to commit acts of terrorism, as well as to spread propaganda and gather and disseminate information for terrorist purposes.
But long before the studies, back in October 2005, Scotland Yard officers in West London arrested 22-year-old, Younis Tsouli. Tsouli alias Irhaby 007 was celebrated by other online terrorists for his hacking prowess and his ability to securely distribute information. It is widely believed that Irhaby 007 passed this knowledge along to other online jihadists through web postings such as his "Seminar for Hacking Websites," creating a network of technology-savvy terrorist disciples.
During the recent attack on Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, Al-Shabaab Militants made use of Twitter to claim responsibility for the attack. The account was shut down but hours later an account with details of real-time updates of the siege resurfaced—it was later shut down.
Like most Social networking sites, Twitter prohibits activity if users publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others but the problem is that doesn't actively monitor the content in search of the above threats. Instead, it relies on users to report in case they notice violations to the rules. Therefore, you are responsible for whatever content is displayed on your account.
So, with Uganda under threat of terrorist attack, it is important for people not only to be vigilant on streets but also on the Internet. After all, social networking is now part of our daily lives.
According to Julius Kamugasa, a Software developer with HRP solutions, Terrorists can take advantage of social networking sites because they have applications like games that are normally developed by third parties and whenever you add an application, you are granting it access to your account.
“Many people forget to whom they've granted access, so it is important to take time to review your apps and other add-ons and revoke access from any you don't use or don't remember installing,’’ Kamugasa explains.
He adds that every user should take time to regularly review their privacy and other account settings on social sites to ensure they meet the current expectations and needs.
“For users who share computers, it’s important to turn on browser security features like In private browsing for internet explorer which is one of the mostly used browsers. This enables you to surf the web without leaving a trail in internet explorer and prevents anyone else who might be using the computer from seeing where you visited and what you looked at on the web”, he adds.
Kamugasa points out tracking protection as another in built feature that can help users stay in control of their privacy.
“With Tracking Protection lists you can choose which third party sites can receive your information and track you online. You can block content from websites that might have an impact on your privacy. Surprisingly all these tools come preinstalled and are free though a few people make use of them”.