Islamic militants may use the Internet to keep connected but it’s not a big terrorist recruitment tool, experts told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on Tuesday.
Social-media sites could be useful for keeping an eye on them, however, the experts said.
"I don't think it's a game changer in the sense that it's leading more people to terrorism," said William McCants, an analyst at the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses. "Certainly like-minded individuals are using it, but we're not seeing any significant change in their numbers."
McCants, who was joined by A. Aaron Weisburd, the director for the Society for Internet Research, and Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser to Rand President Michael Rich, encouraged the subcommittee to use social-media websites, such as YouTube, as intelligence-gathering tools. "Follow the smoke trail of those who celebrate al-Qaida's material and put out the fire of criminal activity," he said.
While subcommittee members asked about the case of five young Muslim men arrested in Pakistan in December 2010 on terrorism charges, none of the witnesses believed it indicated a trend.
"The Internet is not a vector of an al-Qaida infection," Jenkins said. "The individuals come to it as seekers. They search through these sites and find the sites that resonate with their beliefs. The Internet will put them in touch with other people and make them a broader part of an online community -- it will reinforce their radicalization -- but by itself, the Internet doesn't get them all the way there."