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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Saturday, August 30, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know About Reporting on Terrorists on Social Media

Some guidelines for journalists reporting from extremist content on social media:

  1. I'm calling it. "Terrorists are on social media" is officially not news. You should not be writing a story which features "terrorists are on social media" as its lead and/or nut graf.
  2. If you know more about social media than about terrorism and extremism, turn the story over to someone who knows more about terrorism and extremism. It's easier for them to understand how social media works than the other way around.
  3. Just because someone says they're with the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL), or al Qaeda, or anything else, doesn't mean it's true. If you don't know how to determine whether an account is actually associated with the group, don't report on its content.
  4. If your only context for understanding a Twitter account is the content of its tweets, you should not be reporting from it.
  5. Specifically, as to the above point, it is almost always incorrect to say "IS is saying" or "ISIS is doing" based on a Twitter account if you don't understand its context.
  6. Random people tweeting awful things is not news.
  7. Random people tweeting specific threats is not IS making specific threats against America.
  8. Amplifying IS talking points without context is not news. Consider whether you're reporting news or just helping IS scare Americans more effectively than it could ever do on its own.
  9. Nine times out of 10, it is not necessary to publicize extremist Twitter and Facebook account handles when reporting from their content.
  10. Most mainstream media reaches a far larger audience than any IS social media account. Consider whether you are taking a nobody and making him or her a somebody by guiding your much larger audience to his or her door. 
Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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