The Simon Wiesenthal Center has released its 12th annual Digital Terror and Hate Report, which is designed to help law enforcement keep track of online hate. According to the report there has been an increase in problematic websites of over 40% in the last two years to nearly 11,500. This number includes profiles on social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook.
The danger from these websites is that not only are they a recruiting tool for organized terrorist groups, but they allow disturbed individuals to be inspired and supported by a community of like minded people without ever leaving their homes or meeting anyone face to face. Terrorist acts by these “lone wolves” are nearly impossible to predict because you can not tell when one of the thousands of people who participate on these sites are going to go beyond venting their hate and rage (a right protected by the Constitution) to actually committing a violent crime. Often after one of these individuals does snap and does something violent (like the man who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas or the man who started shooting people at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC) and volumes of their web postings are unearthed, it is tempting to look back and think, “This person was clearly disturbed and someone should have known.” But unless and until someone issues a specific threat there is not much that law enforcement can do.
One thing that you can do to help combat terrorism on the net is to be alert to these types of websites and to notify the authorities when you find them. While the site and its content may not be illegal, it will still be useful for law enforcement to at least be aware of its presence. We should also be careful to educate young people about the dangers of these websites and of communicating with strangers on the internet. Young people, particularly if they are lonely or feeling disenfranchised, are vulnerable to recruitment into gangs and terrorist organizations.
If you do find encounter such a presence on the internet, you should report it to the FBI at https://tips.fbi.gov/. You can also report it to organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center at iReport@wiesenthal.com or the Southern Poverty Law Center which track and compile information on terrorist and hate groups.