Could Social Media Predict the Next Terror Attack?

Barb Wire

A group of physicists may have found a way to predict and prevent future ISIS attacks using social media.

It is no secret that ISIS militants are very active on social media. ISIS accounts are often used to spread propoganda and radicalize online users to follow the call to violent jihad. Even Omar Mateen posted ISIS-related threats on Facebook before his deadly rampage.

Univeristy of Miami professor Neil Johnson and his collegues created a computer model to track how ISIS radicalizes potential terrorists online. They published their study in the journal Science Friday.

The group focused on the Russian-speaking social media sight called Vkonte, or VK. It is the largest European online social network and boasts 350 million users, some of whom are Islamic State sympathizers. They chose VK because pro-ISIS Facebook pages “are shut down essentially immediately on Facebook, but not VKonte.”

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Researchers sifted through pro-ISIS posts from 2014 to 2015 that mentioned the terror group’s activities.

Their study showed that approximately 108, 000 pro-ISIS individuals online were able to gain followers rapidly and inspire lone wolf jihad attacks.

More than that, they found that online pro-ISIS groups have predictable behavior before a terror attack.

“It was like watching crystals forming. We were able to see how people were materializing around certain social groups; they were discussing and sharing information – all in real-time,” Johnson said.

They found that when these groups were shut down, followers sprouted their own group of supporters or just rallied around another pro-ISIS user.

The study reported that the sudden increase of pro-ISIS online groups “can indeed act as an indicator of conditions becoming right for the onset of a real-world attack campaign or mass protests.”

This finding was based on the Islamic State 2014 attack on the Syrian town of Kobani. Johnson told the Times that right before the attack, researchers noticed that the number of pro-ISIS online groups suddenly grew.

Johnson said the best way to start targeting ISIS sympathizers online is to focus on smaller groups of dedicated Islamic State supporters who discuss details about financing, avoiding drone strikes, and other intelligence.

He said he hopes their research could be a breakthrough in the fight against ISIS and prevent more Paris, Brussels, and Orlando-style attacks.

Report via CBN News 

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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