Where are All the Cyber Terrorists? From Waiting for Cyber Attack to Understanding Audiences

This paper presents a review of recent academic scholarship and debates on cyber terrorism, and more broadly of what is known about terrorist’s direct use of the Internet as weapon and, less directly, as a communication device. It presents an overview of a field of discourse that has, since its inception, provided a number of foreboding and even doomsday warnings about the future of cyber terrorism, which in the main have failed to come to realization. First, it surveys why these gloomy warnings regarding future proliferation of cyber terrorism have not been born out in practice, and explains that rather than looking for instances of the Internet being used directly as a weapon by terrorists, current debates in academic and policy circles have shifted to trying to measure and ascertain the role that the Internet plays in spreading and supporting extremist discourse to ever wider audiences. It continues by posing a series of questions regarding online audiences that are in need of future research if we are to better understand the role of the Internet in spreading and supporting violent extremist discourse and cultivating terrorism, most importantly the role of audiences as autonomous agents in navigating, reacting and responding to online violent extremist materials.