The world is still reeling from the horrific Friday the 13th terrorist attacks in Paris; the cost in dead and wounded are still being counted, the clean-up is barely underway, and the investigation into the perpetrators is in its earliest phases. There will be much debate in the following days and weeks, but already the French have said that the 8 attackers, 7 of which killed themselves, were all members or inspired by ISIS, and they have taken responsibility as well as threaten more attacks
The full extent of the so-called caliphate’s involvement is not yet known; whether the killers were radicalized French citizens, foreign fighters who snuck in as refugees, or hardened veterans of the Syrian conflict. It’s quite possible that all these types were involved, but however it turns out, there’s no question but that it has changed the security landscape around the world.
Major factors that must be confronted in all this is that ISIS has been adeptly using social media to recruit would-be killers, and that wherever they came from and however they were organized, the attackers managed to stay completely unsuspected by the security services and thus were able to plan and execute a coordinated attack on at least 6 targets. What this means, simply enough, is that terror has become crowdsourced.
As we have discussed in a recent issue of the SWCP Portal, crowdsourcing leverages the mass audiences of the Internet to achieve specific ends. It’s all volunteer, usually DIY, and may be relatively unsupervised or uncontrolled. Since these networks of bad actors are fleeting, low key, and may rely on face-to-face contacts, it’s easier for them to remain hidden until they strike.
As such, these evil-doers pose a unique threat to those who would keep us safe. We can expect more calls for massive Internet surveillance, surrenders of personal freedoms, intense suspicion of migrants, and an enhanced militarized police presence in many areas of life where they had not been seen before. Whether such efforts will be effective will only be proven if they prevent further massacres.
But crowdsourcing works both ways. So our security must be crowdsourced, too. And that’s exactly what happened even while the attacks were taking place. News of what was going on and offers of safe refuges instantly spread across social media. People hiding anxiously in closets could find out if danger was near. Facebook even deployed its Safety Check feature, designed to help people locate missing friends and loved ones in disasters.
But since the authorities are unable, even with all their sneaky technology, to see everything everywhere, the ordinary folks on the Internet need to step up. It’s up to us netizens to be vigilant online and unafraid to speak out, just as we must be habitually, constantly situationally aware when going out to the theatre or restaurants. If you see something, say something.
Terror seeks to overawe us with unreasoning savagery; to make us feel isolated, vulnerable, and powerless. Only as a free people, united, vigilant, and pro-active, can we fight back. Don’t panic, but consider yourself empowered; not as a vigilante, but as a sentinel, and stay alert. Lives – and our way of life – may depend upon it.