The spread of social media in Africa has brought many economic and political benefits, while also equipping terrorist groups with a tool for recruitment and propaganda. A new report from RAND Europe examines the links between social media use and online radicalisation in six African countries, drawing on primary Twitter data analysis.
Social media in Africa presents double-edged sword for security and development
The increased use of information and communication technology in Africa can support social, political and economic development, however it may also expose people to the radicalising influence of violent extremist groups. Social media can equip terrorists with an operational tool to enlist, train, and communicate with their followers and potential recruits.
The United Nations Development Programme commissioned RAND Europe to explore social media use and online radicalisation in Africa. The study focuses on seven African countries: Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, and also looks at governmental efforts to counter online radicalisation. The research team used a mixed-methods approach based on a literature review, research interviews and an analysis of Twitter data.
- Three Islamist militant groups active in Africa, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIL, all use social media, albeit to varying degrees and levels of sophistication.
- Social media propaganda is used to claim or publicise attacks or kidnappings, criticise opponents and demonstrate their tactics.
- Al-Shabaab, ISIL and, to a lesser extent, Boko Haram, use social media as part of their wider recruitment strategies and have increasingly shifted their activities to private channels following account shutdowns on mainstream social media sites.
- Twitter data analysis highlights much uncertainty among users about the veracity of news circulating on social media, and that media-led discussions following major attacks tend to overshadow the more continuous online messaging of terrorist groups.
- Several strategies for countering violent extremism have been introduced in the countries studied but they offer little content focused on online radicalisation and social media use.
- Where not already present, the seven African governments should each develop a bespoke national strategy for countering online radicalisation, either as part of the country's existing strategy targeting violent extremism or as a subordinate strategy.
- After preparing a bespoke national strategy, each government could create programmes tailored to local context, using multiple social media platforms and multiple languages.
- Each government could then share lessons on 'what works' in countering online radicalisation at national, regional and international levels by increasing inter-governmental information exchange, creating new online communities and discussing future collaboration opportunities at regional conferences.
Independent public policy think tank.