Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

Summary: You might roll your eyes at the idea of using gamification to sell children sugary cereals -- but this news will really furrow your brows. Recent reports show that terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda, have been actively employing gamification tactics to acquire members and inspire deeper engagement.

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You might roll your eyes at the idea of using gamification to sell children sugary cereals -- but this news will really furrow your brows. Recent reports show that terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda, have been actively employing gamification tactics to acquire members and inspire deeper engagement.

A recent article on foreignpolicy.com highlights several specific examples of gamification -- and many seem to revolve around online chat room and message boards that cater to jihadists. These online communities have built-in a reputation points system -- the more you post, the more points you accumulate and that will change your status, enable you to show off an avatar and allow access to private groups.

Reputation points are fairly common across most modern-day message boards (I’m a regular on the pregnancy site, TheBump.com, which uses a similar system), but terrorist groups have continued to refine process, pushing community members to interact more with other users (by, say, giving people rewards for clicking the ‘thank’ icon in response to a post) and influencing the types of conversation they have on the boards (for instance, by giving users more power if they sound more ‘radical’ in their posts).

So -- does this stuff actually work? Apparently, it does. The foreignpolicy.com article gives a haunting example of how American-born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar Awlaki has used gamification principles to inspire action, and he uses access to himself as the ultimate reward for followers who show the most devotion. The rules to Awlaki's game aren't pre-programmed like status points on a message board, but they seem to be just as effective in some cases. Remember the Times Square bomber and Fort Hood shooter? Both of those incidents were linked back to this influential cleric (although not specifically, as far as we know, to any of the game-like elements of those message boards). From the article:

“By gamifying his followers' Internet experiences, Awlaki has been able to rally a more engaged online fan club than any other hardcore Islamic extremist to date. Through the creation of an online community of like-minded individuals, al Qaeda has mobilized these e-recruits through a natural process: competing with their peers for status and reputation. Awlaki has used gamification to do what al Qaeda had been unable to do before him, at least in any systematic way: get Americans to compete with one another to put down their keyboards and pick up their weapons.”

It’s frightening to think that something as harmless as adding badges and other achievement systems to a website can be used for such dubious activities, but it also highlights that gamification is a powerful force that can spur people to action -- hopefully positive action, rather than negative -- that goes far beyond conspicuous consumption.

Topic: Collaboration

Libe Goad

About Libe Goad

Texas native Libe Goad resides in New York City and has spent the past decade covering technology and video games for publications including Blender, PC Magazine, Bust, Seventeen and Sync.

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30 comments
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  • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

    the problem with a lot of "online" followers in things.. they talk great when its online, but are nothing the same in reality... so his followers might not be as great as he believes.
    doh123
  • Somebody...

    ...is taking themselves *way* too seriously. "Gamification"? Really?

    Pfft.
    wolf_z
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @wolf_z That is exactly what I was thinking! Why not just say they're recruiting people on Gaming Boards! Gamification sounds very umm, "Alternative LifeStyle" if you know what I mean!
      slickjim
      • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

        @Peter Perry Careful, your ignorance is showing. "Gaming boards" is not what is being described here. I know it's difficult to follow along, but if you're going to choose to criticize, you really need to make sure you understand what's being discussed. In this case, you don't.

        wolf_z's issue is another matter, and I think his has some validity.
        ejhonda
  • Point of matter

    aQ isn't an organisation, it's a theological ideology. Very good article.
    zwhittaker
  • Sounds like they just built a community around a shared set of beliefs.

    nt.
    Caculon
  • Gamification

    Great article. @wolf_z and @Peter... please research the word gamificaition before you knock it. I am actually doing a dissertation on this.
    rebejones
  • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

    While I do not doubt the validity of any of this, it does not surprise me in the least. The world is full of intellectually void people, feeling like they are nobody, will never be anybody or anything, who want to be considered "great", don't want to work for true greatness and will succumb to the propaganda spewed by the likes of all the terrorist groups. It doesn't surprise me either that these groups would find their recruits using gaming "tactics". 72 virgins indeed! How unfortunate for them all that this jihad style of trying to squelch thunder of democracy and freedom is winning out over them all. One day the truly radical will all be dead and the rest, a wannabe bunch of nobody's will go back to their non-descript lives. If these people, the terrorists are such a brave bunch why are their faces always covered? Could it be they don't truly believe in anything more than the thrill (apparently) of firing bullets into the air and posturing and posing? They are nothing more than sheep.
    EthicalLoner
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @dennis@...

      Looks to me like you spend time on the Hannity and Beck boards.

      Thing is we'll see in others that we are incapable of seeing in ourselves.
      rmhesche
      • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

        @rmhesche What the hell are you saying? I'm a centrist and can't stand Beck or fox news, but whatever the heck you are trying to say sounds as daft as it is biased.
        WriterOfCode
  • Gamification of cyberspace followers into fighters ??

    That's what happened with the rebels in Libya. Almost worthless cannon fodder.
    Dr_Zinj
  • The Dissertation would be interesting.

    (I see the post about someone doing their dissertation on gamification is gone. ?. )

    Our government used games as recruiting tools in recruitment centers, for those not yet old enough to sign.<br><br>Then there are games like Call to Glory (?).<br><br>And then there are the (un) Patriot sites like Hannity where the more dogmatic and blinded by Ideology receive positive reinforcement.<br><br>So for the 'other side' to employ the same tactics isn't exactly a shock.<br><br>What doh123 said about reality, I've seen the same thing here in the U.S.. Those cheerleaders who haven't the sack to actually do something other than be the Army of Perception.
    rmhesche
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @rmhesche

      Thats it ... One stone, two measures.
      FaqMaster@...
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @rmhesche How's the crack?
      WriterOfCode
  • Bin Laden didn't even have Internet

    This is just western talking heads trying to sell a narrative, and media outlets trying to fill content.

    Don't build up simple enemies into super villains, it's counter productive.

    Oh and congrats to Obama for getting Bin Laden, well done.
    guihombre
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @guihombre uh, I heard some Navy Seals got Bin Laden, so congrat them, they did the work.
      grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
      • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

        @grayknight I would like to
        TomB@...
      • oops I did not mean to post as him

        why cant is delete this?
        dickdavies
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      congrats seals nice to know the pointy end of America's spear is still sharp
      r_s_manley@...
    • RE: Terrorists turn to gamification to create more devoted followers

      @guihombre Or they have legitimate point.

      And yeah, congrats for Obama, but more congrats to the men in uniform and equal congrats for Bush, who had the balls to wage war with the terrorists in Afghanistan (even if Iraq was a bad idea based on bad information).

      You got to be balanced, or you got nothing.
      WriterOfCode