Crowdsourcing Terrorism: Utopia, Martyrdom and Citizenship Reimagined

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
DOI10.1177/2347797017731955
Subject MatterArticles
Crowdsourcing Terrorism:
Utopia, Martyrdom and
Citizenship Reimagined
Jennifer Yang Hui1
Abstract
The role of social media in aiding terrorist attacks worldwide has been widely
discussed among counterterrorism officials and academics. Since 2014, the idea of
‘crowdsourced terrorism’, whereby the Islamic State (IS) outsourced the conduct
of attacks to their followers and attempted to attract them to Syria, has been
popularly used by Western policymakers. This article critically examines the
phenomenon of crowdsourcing and the IS’s online appeal in the case of Indonesia.
The participant–curator crowdsourcing model outlined by Laurie Philips and
Daren Brabham explains the online appeal of the IS, with social media facilitating
the IS’s establishment of the relationship with Internet users in faraway countries
such as Indonesia and allowing them to participate in the making of the IS brand.
Participatory culture therefore encourages an e-supporter’s faith in the importance
of their individual contribution and social connection that transcend offline realities
in areas such as citizenship. IS opinion leaders work alongside online supporters
to craft the meaning of martyrdom and imagination of citizenship through social
media posts about life in the Caliphate. The land of Syria is imagined simultaneously
as paradise for those who take their faith seriously as well as the venue for
the Islamic equivalent of Armageddon. Hijrah (jihad by emigration) to Syria and
martyrdom are represented as obligatory in the quest for equalization of power
and freedom from slavery of those who are against the establishment of the
Caliphate. Crowdsourced imaginations of the IS have had implications in several
areas of policymaking. The article will discuss the implications of online imaginaries
on IS’s approaches to militancy in its operations, Indonesian decision makers’ debate
to revoke the citizenship of those who had travelled to IS and for the Indonesian
military in its quest for expansion of their role in counterterror operations.
Keywords
Technology, crowdsourcing, security, religion, social network
Article
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
4(3) 337–352
2017 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2347797017731955
http://aia.sagepub.com
1
Associate Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), S. Rajaratnam School
of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Corresponding author:
Jennifer Yang Hui, Associate Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS),
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
E-mail: jennifer.yanghui@gmail.com
338 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 4(3)
Introduction
On 14 January 2016, loud explosions rocked the Starbucks outlet at the
Cakrawala Building and the police post located in the busy Thamrin Road in
central Jakarta. As a crowd of onlookers gathered to film the aftermath of the
bombings, two men, who were at first within the crowd, slowly made their
way to the police trying to diffuse the situation and shot them point blank.
The four attackers injured 26, including members of the police, and killed
3 civilians before the authorities finally brought the situation under control.
Following the attack in Jakarta, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility in
a statement widely disseminated on social media. Pointing to an Indonesian
citizen, Bahrun Naim, currently believed to be residing in Raqqa, Syria, as the
mastermind of the attack, the government responded by closing down his blog
as well as some pro-IS websites and social media accounts on Twitter and
Telegram.
Although the theory of the Thamrin attacks being coordinated from Syria has
since been disproved (IPAC, 2016), the role of social media in aiding terrorist
attacks worldwide has been a subject of hot debate among counterterrorism
officials and academics for several years. Since 2014, the idea of ‘crowdsourced
terrorism’, whereby the IS outsourced the conduct of attacks to their followers
and attempted to attract them to Syria, has been popularly used by Western
policymakers. The knife attack in Leytonstone subway station in east London and
shooting in San Bernardino, the USA, that injured 1 and killed 14 people, respec-
tively, in December 2015, had signalled what the US Secretary of Homeland
Security, Jeh Johnson, called an ‘entirely new phase in the global terrorist threat’
whereby terrorists ‘outsourced attempts to attack’ in many countries worldwide
(Baker & Schmitt, 2015). Concurring, James Comey, then Director of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, had cautioned against the IS’s strategy of ‘crowdsourced
terrorism’ that invited supporters to either join them in Syria or conduct attacks
wherever they are located (Baker & Schmitt, 2015).
The concern over crowdsourced terrorism extended to Indonesia, where, as of
January 2016, 384 citizens had gone to Syria (Aprianto, 2016, p. 26). While small
compared to other countries, the nation still saw 2.7 million citizens involved in a
series of terror attacks, a number that excluded supporters and sympathizers
(Tempo.co, 20 January 2016). The impact of crowdsourcing was also worth exam-
ining, given that the call to emigrate to Syria and, after 2015, with tightened
border controls in Turkey, consideration for conducting attacks back home in
Indonesia appeared to have been heeded (IPAC, 2016). The Indonesian National
Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) had reported that IS-affiliated individuals
currently number about 1,000 persons. A survey by Saiful Mujani Research and
Consulting also revealed that while majority of Indonesians viewed IS negatively
(Poushter, 2015), 4.4 per cent of the respondents did not see the organization as a
threat, and, indeed, 0.8 per cent supported the IS (Nashrillah, 2016). The impact
of social media on support for the IS among Indonesians had been noted (IPAC,
2015), although to date no empirical study demonstrating the linkage has

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