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Terrorists Need an Audience – How Terror Benefits from Digital Media. By Jason Burke

In short by Jan Peter Gülden

Terrorists’ main objective is to spread fear and terror. They have always done this through “propaganda of the deed.” Yet terrorists rely on their deeds being communicated. Jason Burke begins with a convincing account of the parallel development of Islamist terror and media reach via television and radio. He concludes with a summary of the interplay between the digital revolution and recent forms of terror.

Burke persuasively points to the media’s culpability, blaming an intrinsic sensationalism for their eagerness to seize upon images of extremely graphic violence in order to boost their circulation. They accept the possibility of amplifying fears among their consumers – fears which in some cases are wholly irrational – and undermining the public’s trust in democratic institutions.

On the other hand, Burke highlights professional journalists’ considerable loss of influence in the context of the digital revolution – because just about anyone with a smartphone can become an agent of “propaganda of the deed.” Ultimately, the author calls for the establishment of a “code of conduct for everyone who owns a smartphone and uses Twitter, Facebook, and suchlike.”