Michael Martinez is a consultant who specializes in data analysis, project management and community engagement. has a M.S. of Intelligence Management from University of Maryland University College. He can be found on Twitter @MichaelMartinez. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Analyzing Social Media as a Means to Undermine the United States
Date Originally Written: November 30, 2021.
Date Originally Published: December 27, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that social media is not inherently good nor bad, but a tool to enhance discussion. Unless the national security apparatus understands how to best utilize Open Source Intelligence to achieve its stated goals, i.e. engaging the public on social media and public forums, it will lag behind its adversaries in this space.
Summary: Stopping online radicalization of all varieties is complex and includes the individual, the government, social media companies, and Internet Service Providers. Artificial intelligence reviewing information online and flagging potential threats may not be adequate. Only through public-private partnerships can an effective system by created to support anti-radicalization endeavors.
Text: The adage, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” cannot be further from the truth in the age of social media. Every user’s click and purchase are recorded by private entities such as Facebook and Twitter. These records can be utilized by other nations to gather information on the United States economy, intellectual property, as well as information on government personnel and agencies. This collation of data can be packaged together and be used to inform operations to prey on U.S. personnel. Examples include extortion through ransomware, an adversary intelligence service probing an employee for specific national information by appealing to their subject matter expertise, and online influence / radicalization.
It is crucial to accept that the United States and its citizens are more heavily reliant on social media than ever before. Social media entities such as Meta (formerly Facebook) have new and yet to be released products for children (i.e., the “Instagram for Kids” product) enabling adversaries to prey upon any age a potential. Terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda utilize cartoons on outlets like YouTube and Instagram to entice vulnerable youth to carry out attacks or help radicalize potential suicide bombers.
While Facebook and YouTube are the most common among most age groups, Tik-Tok and Snapchat have undergone a meteoric arise among youth under thirty. Intelligence services and terrorist organizations have vastly improved their online recruiting techniques including video and media as the platforms have become just as sophisticated. Unless federal, state, and local governments strengthen their public-private partnerships to stay ahead of growth in next generation social media platforms this adversary behavior will continue. The national security community has tools at its disposal to help protect Americans from being turned into cybercriminals through coercion, or radicalizing individuals from overseas entities such as the Islamic State to potentially carry out domestic attacks.
To counter such trends within social media radicalization, the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) worked with the National Academies to identify traits and agendas to facilitate disruption of these efforts. Some of the things identified include functional databases, considering links between terrorism and lesser crimes, and exploring the culture of terrorism, including structure and goals. While a solid federal infrastructure and deterrence mechanism is vital, it is also important for the social media platform themselves to eliminate radical media that may influence at-risk individuals.
According to the NIJ, there are several characteristics that contribute to social media radicalization: being unemployed, a loner, having a criminal history, a history of mental illness, and having prior military experience. These are only potential factors that do not apply to all who are radicalized. However, these factors do provide a base to begin investigation and mitigation strategies.
As a long-term solution, the Bipartisan Policy Center recommends enacting and teaching media literacy to understand and spot internet radicalization. Social media algorithms are not fool proof. These algorithms require the cyberspace equivalent of “see something, say something” and for users to report any suspicious activity to the platforms. The risks of these companies not acting is also vital as their main goal is to monetize. Acting in this manner does not help companies make more money. This inaction is when the government steps in to ensure that private enterprise is not impeding national security.
Creating a system that works will balance the rights of the individual with the national security of the United States. It will also respect the rights of private enterprise and the pipelines that carry the information to homes, the Internet Service Providers. Until this system can be created, the radicalization of Americans will be a pitfall for the entire National Security apparatus.
 Oremus, W. (2018, April 27). Are You Really the Product? Retrieved on November 15, 2021, from https://slate.com/technology/2018/04/are-you-really-facebooks-product-the-history-of-a-dangerous-idea.html.
 Thompson, R. (2011). Radicalization and the Use of Social Media. Journal of Strategic Security, 4(4), 167–190. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26463917
 Pew Research Center. (2021, April 7). Social Media Use in 2021. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/
 Aisha Javed Qureshi, “Understanding Domestic Radicalization and Terrorism,” August 14, 2020, nij.ojp.gov: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/understanding-domestic-radicalization-and-terrorism.
 The National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Intelligence Threats & Social Media Deception. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.dni.gov/index.php/ncsc-features/2780-ncsc-intelligence-threats-social-media-deception.
 Schleffer, G., & Miller, B. (2021). The Political Effects of Social Media Platforms on Different Regime Types. Austin, TX. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/13987.
 Bipartisan Policy Center. (2012, December). Countering Online Radicalization in America. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://bipartisanpolicy.org/download/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/BPC-_Online-Radicalization-Report.pdf