A Proposed Framework for Assessing Terrorist Exploitation of Social Networks

Date of Submission


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice (Ph.D.)


Criminal Justice


William L. Tafoya

Committee Member

Howard Stoffer

Committee Member

Jeffery S. McIllwain

LC Subject Headings

Terrorism--Prevention--Government policy, Social media

Call No. at the Univ. of New Haven Library

AS36.N290 Crim. Just. 2017 no.1


Terrorist groups and their affiliates continue to exploit nearly every aspect of the online environment, transforming cloud-based communications, encryption, and media production into self-funding terrorist movements. A significant yet undiscovered dimension to this phenomenon is the ability of these groups to propagate their messaging through a social networking ecosystem, bolstering recruits, funding, and global attention.

A primary reflex of existing policymakers and military intelligence analysts in combating this threat has been the transference of traditional military fighting tactics used successfully in the physical world into the virtual world. Such a leap, while logically grounded and partially effective, dismisses the primary center of gravity of the terrorist: their brand. Bolstered by influencers and amplified by highly engaged networks, terrorist brands must be regularly curated and enforced to uphold their global reputation. Given this phenomenon, new models of assessing these groups must be implemented that consider the integration of brand-relevant aspects like use of influencers and use of networks.

This study examines social media enabled terrorist networks through the lens of marketing and branding. With this perspective, original research focuses on developing and validating a new type of assessment model called the CINET Matrix. CINET is an acronym that represents three primary marketing characteristics: Content, Influencer, and Networks of the matrix. It is validated through collecting and analyzing influencer and network attributes of shared terrorist and non-terrorist online news content. This matrix was designed as a planning and assessment tool for policymakers to better understand the extent to which online terrorist content is disseminated by influencers and networks. A series of statistical tests were conducted to validate the components of the CINET matrix, and a sample matrix is provided. Additionally, several examples of integrating CINET in the context of existing and future counter-terrorism policies are discussed.