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Social Media As a Platform for Crafting Gender-Specific Interventions for the Domestic Radicalization of Women

Award Information

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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $716,065)

On December 2, 2015, Tashfeen Malik posted her online support of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi on Facebook as she entered the Inland Regional Center, and assisted her husband, Syed Farook, in killing 14 civilians and seriously wounding 22 more. Some months earlier, two Somali–American sisters aged 15 and 17, and their 16-year-old friend of Sudanese descent, had been detained by German officials based upon a tip from the FBI as they were seeking to travel from their homes in Denver to Syria. These actions reflected their prior engagement online with Umm Waqqas, a nom de guerre, believed to belong to a woman and one of three accounts listed as a contact for those seeking to travel to Syria in ISIL’s 2015 guidebook, Hijrah to the Islamic State. Our project will support the development of a demonstration program, initiated by the University of Virginia (UVA) in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to identify, study, and respond to the social media campaigns being used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to motivate women to perform hijra and travel to join the Caliphate or initiate violent acts of terror in their countries of origin. In achieving these goals, we will use linguistic and image-based search engines developed at UVA: (1) to identify recruitment strategies used by ISIL to prompt the radicalization of Western women, (2) to identify risk factors that are associated with the decision to travel to Syria or participate in civilian-based violence, (3) to generate positive counter-narratives designed to reduce or negate the appeal of these messages, and (4) to integrate this information into an educational website designed to enhance the media literacy of families, schools, communities, and local law enforcement across America. As Anita Peresin, Senior Advisor in the Office of the National Security Council of the Republic of Croatia, has observed,” by using a professionally designed social media campaign, ISIL is more aggressively and more effectively recruiting women than any other terrorist group in the past.” The significance of this media campaign is demonstrated by the 20,000 youth who have now traveled to Syria or Iraq, combined with the sobering observation by Edit Schlaffer, that ISIL does not voluntarily release its people, and any return journey is a “matter of survival.” ca/ncf
Date Created: September 14, 2016