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Gaining new perspectives on using social media during terrorist attacks

Posted on 2nd September 2019 at 16:26pm

Last June I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Terrorism and Social Media Conference 2019 (TASM 2019), hosted at the University Bay Area Campus in Swansea, which is right by the sea, writes Gianluca Riglietti of Panta Ray. The event saw the gathering of professionals from academia, government and tech companies for a packed two-day programme, where virtually every aspect of the interaction between terrorist groups and the Internet was discussed.

Research based on in-depth interviews, revealed how crisis managers use private chats and a wide range of commercial apps to communicate during a terrorist incident, reporting issues of reliability of information, data privacy and telecom infrastructure (image: Anna Kolenko/123rf)

The different panels tackled issues such as regional extremism (eg Boko Haram), as well as cutting edge detection methods powered by artificial intelligence. Representatives from the United Nations, Facebook and the London Metropolitan Police (among others) were there too, which contributed to creating a buzzing atmosphere throughout the entire event.

Working in a consultancy and coming from the world of business continuity and organisational resilience, I must admit I initially asked myself whether my contribution could fit in and to what extent I would be able to interest a vastly academic audience. It turns out the answer was more than I could imagine. In a joint effort with Dr Kamal Muhammad, from the Business Continuity Institute, I had decided to investigate the way private companies use social media during a terrorist attack, in order to gather intelligence or communicate with those impacted by the incident. The title of our presentation, 'What about the private sector?' aimed clearly at addressing a world that no one else had targeted at the conference.

Our research, based on in-depth interviews, revealed how crisis managers use private chats and a wide range of commercial apps to communicate during a terrorist incident, reporting issues of reliability of information, data privacy and telecom infrastructure. In addition, we observed how the owners of this process were different in nearly every case, as was the software they used. If you are interested in having a more comprehensive look at the findings, you can see the full presentation for free here.

Dr Muhammad and I were extremely glad to see we were able to engage with the audience, who received an unexpected insight into the way the private sector approached social media management in a terrorist incident. This was also a great chance for us to learn and understand a world made of very passionate individuals, who put a lot of effort and energies into analysing very sensitive material, search the web for the best piece of intelligence and look for creative ways to defuse violent extremism.

Thus, it turned out that stepping out of my industry’s bubble had allowed me to gain a fresh perspective on business continuity and crisis management. This is why, through some great feedback that we received at the event, we have decided to take our initial project a step further and run a larger survey, which will be possible also thanks to the support of the Crisis Response Journal and RTI International.

The goal is to produce a final report, available for free, which practitioners in crisis management can use as a tool to build their plans. The survey will be distributed in November and will be featured in another article on crisis communications and social media in the hard copy edition of the Crisis Response Journal.

If this sounds like something that could be of interest to you, then please keep an eye out for the article in the CRJ, or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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