Shop Notes

How ISIS uses social media

Posted: July 16, 2015 | Tags: national security

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Workshop graduate researchers and fellows are assigned to work with The Washington Post reporters on long-term projects as part of our ongoing partnership, and Post reporters Scott Higham and Ellen Nakashima took Workshop student Fauzeya Rahman on this summer to help them with "Why the Islamic State leaves tech companies torn between free speech and security," a project that combines national security, social media and censorship.

Their piece looks at ISIS and other terrorists groups that use social media to spread propaganda and recruit individuals. Their story also explores the relationship between freedom of speech, censorship and social media companies' responsibility to monitor or censor terrorist content. 

Higham and Nakashima interviewed several experts to understand the many viewpoints involved in these various concepts. Rahman assisted by listening and transcribing hours of interviews with social media executives, congressional committee members, "dark web" intelligence experts and other Internet service providers. She looked for key passages and quotes of interest and shared them with the reporters. She also summarized the Jan. 27 House hearing on the Paris attacks and the evolution of terrorist propaganda. She came up with questions and participated in an interview with Ted Poe (R-Texas), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Rahman helped in a round of copyediting as well. 

Her contributions exemplify the importance of the role of students and recent graduates to newsroom investigative teams that need not only time for these in-depth projects but also more hands on deck. Workshop interns, other AU students and students from other universities — Rahman came to us after finishing her master's at the University of Texas, Austin — have contributed to a half-dozen projects in the last two years at the Post, including:

• Broken by the Bubble, part of the Dashed Dreams series, which looked at the nation’s highest-income majority black county, and the unequal recovery its thousands of residents have experienced since the housing crisis of 2008.

• Stop & Seize, in which The Washington Post exposed aggressive police taking hundreds of millions of dollars without search warrants from motorists not charged with crimes.

• Shaken Science, which examined court cases and convictions for shaken-baby syndrome.

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