Allison E. Betus, Michael K. Jablonski, and Anthony F. Lemieux
Terrorism employs violence or the threat of violence to diffuse and amplify messages to an audience beyond the immediate target or victim of an attack. Violent acts initiate media coverage, as well as word-of-mouth transmission, functioning as a gateway that draws attention to the terror group and its messages in a manner that increases the salience of the communication; then media provides additional information contextualizing the original act. Media coverage may make the group initiating the communication look more dangerous or powerful than is warranted.
Terrorist communication strategy involves a noteworthy violent act, or threat thereof, that secondarily communicates with multiple audience groups. One audience may be supporters of the terror group who construct identity from the violent act as well as from grievances that the group seeks to advertise. Another may be outgroups sympathetic with the substance of communicated messages. Still another may be foreign countries, which may provide a sense of legitimacy to the actions of the group.
A violent group successfully portrayed as victimized will solidify ingroup cohesion and outgroup hostility while justifying the use of violence as a moral consequence of circumstances. Terrorists often dehumanize the outgroup by stereotyping them in ways they argue will justify violence. People sympathetic with the dehumanization of the outgroup may provide support without actually joining in the perpetration of terror. Some may be radicalized by communication produced by terrorists, such as on social media, to become actors themselves. Counter-terror tactics may disrupt intergroup communication, thus interfering with recruitment or operational capabilities of those supporting or engaging in terrorism.