Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Stanford University


Why Al-Qaida Hates the Internet: Trust Problems on Jihadi Discussion Forums  
CISAC Social Science Seminar

Date and Time
January 24, 2013
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Open to the public
No RSVP required

Thomas Hegghammer - Zukerman Fellow at CISAC
Timothy Junio (commentator) - Cybersecurity Fellow at CISAC

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.

CISAC Conference Room
Encina Hall Central, 2nd floor
616 Serra St.
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305
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FSI Contact
Alison Epstein