Terrorism Online: Is Speech the Same as It Ever Was?

34 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2010 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014

See all articles by Steven R. Morrison

Steven R. Morrison

University of North Dakota School of Law

Date Written: 2011


Like all of us, terrorists now use the Internet for many purposes. It is commonly believed that planning operations, fundraising, and recruitment are the three main ways that terrorists take advantage of online communication. While it is clear that speech related to the first two can be prohibited, online recruitment speech may be protected under the First Amendment.

As a result, a number of commentators have been concerned at online recruitment and the fact that our current speech rules may not be adequate to deal with this new threat. They have proposed a number of remedies, but have largely accepted that online recruitment is a unique and potent danger.

This article questions that assumption. It discusses the structure of online communication and observations about it from the field of psychology. It concludes that online communication is currently no more dangerous than its real-world counterpart, and may actually be safer when it comes to terror recruitment.

This is not to say that there is no threat. Terrorist groups do recruit via the Internet. By showing, however, that the nature of online communication does not facilitate this recruitment, we can move toward truly effective solutions to the problem of online recruitment.

Keywords: criminal law, terrorism, internet, cyberspace, first amendment, speech

Suggested Citation

Morrison, Steven R., Terrorism Online: Is Speech the Same as It Ever Was? (2011). 44 Creighton L. Rev. 963, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1686902

Steven R. Morrison (Contact Author)

University of North Dakota School of Law ( email )

215 Centennial Drive Stop 9003
Grand Forks, ND 58202
United States
617-749-7817 (Phone)

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