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Why Al-Qaida Hates the Internet: Trust Problems on Jihadi Discussion Forums



Date and Time

January 24, 2013 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


CISAC Central Conf 2nd FLREncina Hall Central, 2nd floor 616 Serra St. Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305

FSI Contact

Alison Epstein

The trust problem limits what rebels can do online. The scarcity of non-verbal cues in digital communication facilitates deceptive mimicry, which undermines the interpersonal trust required for sensitive transactions. Open-source data from jihadi discussion forums show that distrust there is very high and direct recruitment rare. General trust also declined during the observation period (2006-2011). As of 2012, forums are still in use, but primarily for low-stake activities such as propaganda-sharing and ideological debate. Confidence in the authenticity of propaganda remains relatively high, due to vetting institutions and hard-to-fake video formats. A modicum of interpersonal trust also remains, thanks to reputation systems and a few relatively reliable signs of trustworthiness involving time expenditure. The trust problem is an Achilles’ heel for terrorists online – but probably also for pro-democracy activists in authoritarian settings.