We apply empirical methods to examine the relationship between the frequency of terrorist incidences and freedom of expression, which we measure using Freedom House's Freedom of the Press report, and access to landline telephones, mobile phones, and the Internet. Using standard ordinary least squares econometric methods, we ultimately find that greater mobile phone access tends to increase the frequency of terrorist incidences at a diminishing rate and that greater Internet access tends to decrease the frequency of terrorist incidences at a diminishing rate. On average, the frequency of terrorist incidences is highest when societies have access to 137.89 mobile phone subscriptions for each 100 people, and lowest when the percentage of people with Internet access is at 64.79%. Based on our results, we cannot conclude that either freedom of the press or landline telephone access have any statistically significant influence on the frequency of terrorist incidences.Lin concludes -
The purpose of this study is to employ empirical methods to examine the relationship between terrorism and freedom of expression. Using standard ordinary least squares econometric methods, we ultimately find that greater mobile phone access tends to increase the frequency of terrorist incidences at a diminishing rate. We also find that greater Internet access tends to decrease the frequency of terrorist incidences at a diminishing rate. On average, the frequency of terrorist incidences is highest when societies have access to 137.89 mobile phone subscriptions for each 100 people. Additionally, the frequency of terrorist incidences is lowest on average when the percentage of people with Internet access is at 64.79%. Based on our results, we cannot conclude that either Freedom of the Press or telephone access have any statistically significant influence on the frequency of terrorist incidences.
We may apply the framework of repression, release, rebellion, and replication, as initially represented in Figure 3.1. By combining our calculated results and the proposed framework, we conclude that increases in mobile phone access tend to shift societies from either a state of repression or rebellion towards a state of replication, where higher allowances for freedom of expression result in greater occurrences of terrorist incidences. Greater levels of Internet access tends to shift societies from either a state of repression or rebellion towards a state of release, where higher allowances for freedom of expression result in fewer occurrences of terrorist incidences. These conclusions are summarized in graphical form in Figure 5.1. The existing literature on terrorism and its root causes minimally discusses the relation- ship between mobile phone access and terrorism. In most cases, discussion of the connection between modern technologies and terrorism is largely anecdotal in nature and typically do not present comprehensive theories of the relationship between access to modern technologies and terrorism. The literature on terrorism that do mention mobile phones do little more than indicate that mobile phones were used in some capacity to orchestrate or implement ter- rorist attacks. For instance, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States report on the September 11 attack is replete with details of how the terrorist hijackers utilized phone communications throughout their planning process to bring their attack to fruition. Accounts of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings reveal that mobile phones were used as remote triggers for explosive devices. Similarly, the official House of Commons report on the July 7, 2005 London bombings provide details of how the various bombers utilized mobile phones to communicate amongst themselves. In almost all similar accounts of major terrorist incidences, there is some indication that mobile phones were utilized to some extent to coordinate or implement terrorist attacks. Based on the accounts of how terrorists have used mobile phones, we can surmise that mobile phones and the frequency of terrorist incidences share a positive relationship because mobile phones serve as an operational enabler for terrorists. In a manner, the availability of mobile phones makes terrorism easier. New technologies, such as mobile phones, do not directly cause more terrorism; rather, terrorist groups are often adept — perhaps more so than law enforcement forces that attempt to thwart terrorism — at leveraging new technologies as they arise to serve terrorist agendas more effectively.
There is a comparatively richer body of literature that discusses the relationship between Internet access and terrorism. However, much of the existing literature pre-supposes a positive relationship between Internet access and terrorism. Certainly, there is a bounty of evidence that suggests that the rise of the Internet has been a great boon for terrorism. Terrorist movements, favoring such characteristics of the Internet as it unregulated nature and its potentially broad audience, have increasingly relied on the Internet to engage in such diverse activities as fundraising, propagandizing, data mining, and coordinating terrorist operations. Prominent terrorist movements like al-Qaeda strongly believe that the Inter- net is an effective platform to disseminate radicalizing propaganda and to build connections between individuals who are prone to supporting terrorist causes. Such figures as Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda official, lauded the potency of the Internet, stating, “The internet [sic] has become a great medium for spreading the call of Jihad and following the news of the mujihadeen.”
The results of this study are contrary to the conventional wisdom that greater Internet access leads to more terrorism. This study indicates that to a statistically significant degree, greater Internet access actually reduces the frequency of terrorist incidences. There are a number of possible explanations for why Internet access might reduce the frequency of terrorist incidences, including providing a social release valve through which societies can peacefully voice their discontent in place of engaging in violent outbursts, allowing for the rise of multiple accounts and views that can undermine the credibility of terrorist narratives and thus mitigate the processes of radicalization, and facilitate access to social and economic opportunities that can dampen perceived grievances that often promote terrorism.
Perhaps as notable as what we find to be statistically significant is what we do not find to be statistically significant. Our study does not provide sufficient evidence to lead us to conclude that Freedom of the Press and telephone access are statistically significant influencers on the frequency of terrorist incidences. We are especially surprised by the lack of a statistically significant effect of the Freedom of the Press measure on terrorism. This result may be explained by the possibility that qualities that are frequently associated with environments of high freedom of expression are reflected in certain control variables utilized in this study, such as the democracy, or it may very well be that the qualitative nature of the environment of freedom of expression is not a factor significantly related to terrorism.
One important policy implication of these findings relates to the importance of Internet access in challenging terrorism. Our results lend greater support to efforts intended to expand Internet access, a trend that is already well underway around the world and which has demonstrated significant impacts. Though we do find a positive relationship between mobile phone access and terrorism, curtailing mobile phone access for the express purpose of challenging terrorism may not be advisable as it would represent an effort to resist technological progress that has broad social and economic benefits.
We acknowledge potential deficiencies that might impair the external validity of our conclusions. One prominent deficiency is the fact that the two primary components that we attempt to relate — terrorism and freedom of expression — are inherently difficult to define, and our attempts to define terrorism and freedom of expression are to a certain extent subjective. The manner in which we define terrorism and freedom of expression may not be universally accepted, and may actually be contrary to certain cultural and societal norms. Additionally, the data sources we utilize for the independent variables are characterized by their respective deficiencies, such as the subjective aspects of the measure of the qualitative characteristics of freedom of expression, the possibility of perception biases in the measure for corruption, and the limited numbers of observations in the measure of income inequality, amongst other potential deficiencies. Furthermore, despite our best efforts to account for significant systemic variables in our model, there inevitably exists the risk of omitted variable bias. Nonetheless, we have made an effort to address the possible deficiencies in the study design and implementation, and we believe that alternative methods would not necessarily result in more reliable outcomes.
This study is an effort to fill a conspicious void in the existing body of terrorism scholarship. It represents a reasoned attempt at applying empirically driven methods at examining the relationship between terrorism and freedom of expression. While a great deal of research and writing has already been produced on the linkage between terrorism and freedom of expression, until this writing, no attempt has been made to examine the relationship between terrorism and freedom of expression quantitatively. We hope that this study ultimately proves to be beneficial to understanding the underlying risk factors of terrorism.