‘Googling’ Terrorists: Are Northern Irish Terrorists Visible on Internet Search Engines?
In this chapter, the analysis suggests that Northern Irish terrorists are not visible on Web search engines when net users employ conventional Internet search techniques. Editors of mass media organisations traditionally have had the ability to decide whether a terrorist atrocity is ‘newsworthy,’ controlling the ‘oxygen’ supply that sustains all forms of terrorism. This process, also known as ‘gatekeeping,’ is often influenced by the norms of social responsibility, or alternatively, with regard to the interests of the advertisers and corporate sponsors that sustain mass media organisations. The analysis presented in this chapter suggests that Internet search engines can also be characterised as ‘gatekeepers,’ albeit without the ability to shape the content of Websites before it reaches net users. Instead, Internet search engines give priority retrieval to certain Websites within their directory, pointing net users towards these Websites rather than others on the Internet. Net users are more likely to click on links to the more ‘visible’ Websites on Internet search engine directories, these sites invariably being the highest ‘ranked’ in response to a particular search query. A number of factors including the design of the Website and the number of links to external sites determine the ‘visibility’ of a Website on Internet search engines. The study suggests that Northern Irish terrorists and their sympathisers are unlikely to achieve a greater degree of ‘visibility’ online than they enjoy in the conventional mass media through the perpetration of atrocities. Although these groups may have a greater degree of freedom on the Internet to publicise their ideologies, they are still likely to be speaking to the converted or members of the press. Although it is easier to locate Northern Irish terrorist organisations on Internet search engines by linking in via ideology, ideological description searches, such as ‘Irish Republican’ and ‘Ulster Loyalist,’ are more likely to generate links pointing towards the sites of research institutes and independent media organisations than sites sympathetic to Northern Irish terrorist organisations. The chapter argues that Northern Irish terrorists are only visible on search engines if net users select the correct search terms.
KeywordsSearch Engine Internet User Search Query Terrorist Group Computer Mediate Communication
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