Saturday, April 04, 2020

How terrorists rely on you to spread their evil messages

May 16. 2018
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Indonesians are shocked and deeply saddened by acts of terrorism in Depok, West Java, and Surabaya, East Java, this past week.

The public expressed its anger through social media platforms. Many crafted personal messages to their family members, while some gave out warnings by forwarding horrific pictures of victims or even content that is not related to the attacks. Some were inclined to share conspiracy theories or manifest their anger by blaming security personnel or government officials they claimed had not been vigilant enough.

Even worse, a small number of the latter have accused the government and security agencies of being the real perpetrators behind the attacks.

These are unavoidable consequences in a post-terrorist attack environment. However, spreading information about terrorism on social media is a double-edged sword. It may create awareness, but it could also help the attackers in spreading terror. How can we use social media as a tool without turning it into a weapon for terrorist?

Terrorism has many definitions and world states have yet to agree on one. However, what makes it different to other uses of political violence is the emphasis on “terror”. In this context, any message that scares society as a consequence of an attack can be as powerful as the actual violence – even more so.

In the age of information, a message is seen by terrorists as another means to reach their objective. It is one of their goals to scare and disorient citizens. Most of the time, those who spread unverified information do not realize they have become mules for these messages.

Following a terror attack, smartphone users frequently receive and spread pictures containing horrific images of bloodied victims. These can desensitise people to the horrors of violence and terrorism. As Jean Baudrillard noted, our repetitious consumption of violence can eventually lead us to no longer see it as an anomaly. In short, spreading pictures of attacks can normalise violence – and a lack of empathy.

Hate them or love them; security personnel are our heroes. You may have personally encountered unpleasant situations with security personnel, especially the police. Perhaps they gave you a ticket when you were in a rush or their response was slow in a time of emergency. They are also notorious for being corrupt. But none of this can legitimise your dislike for them during terrorist attacks.

After an attack occurs, you would instinctively find protection, but law-enforcement officers are ordered to go to the crime scene. If a bomb has yet to go off, or a death squad has intentionally hidden waiting for a second-wave attack, these officers would be the first victims.

We grieve for the loss of five officers in the riot at the National Police’s Mobile Brigade detention centre (Mako Brimob). These officers, and those who survived the attack, formed a human barricade to stop the rioters leaving the facility. After the attacks on Sunday morning, the police asked every congregation in Surabaya to go home, while bomb squads and security officers came to secure the site. It is their job, but any job that puts lives at risk is not an ordinary one.


Terrorists expect you to resent security personnel. They use social media to provoke you into badmouthing law-enforcement agencies to undermine their enemy. After the Surabaya attacks, posts were uploaded on social media that undermined the police. Perhaps it slipped netizens’ minds that their posts were written under the protection offered by those they had disparaged.

In post-attack situations, neither the victims nor the police need your social media disputes. Terrorist attacks that target the symbols of specific communities, such as churches, are aimed against interreligious harmony. Being divided or justifying the attack is “good news’” for the terrorist. Netizens could argue that they have a right to freedom of expression, but unity should always be the priority after a terrorist attack.

You should also avoid “too soon” jokes that could offend someone.

If my suggestions seem to restrain you from sharing content, you can always share your prayers. Terror attacks occur in real life, and if our online activities can’t help the situation, it is always good to find a way to directly help the victims and their families. This can be in the form of monetary donations for the victims’ families, blood donations or even attending a mass prayer event.

Satrio Dwicahyo is a graduate of the Gadjah Mada Univer-sity’s School of History

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