This paper synthesises research on post-incident communications from a range of fields – including terrorism, crisis communications, mass-shooter incidents, serial offenders, and suicide studies – to identify guidelines for the development of a post-terrorist incident communications framework.
Key Findings and Recommendations
Terrorism is fundamentally a type of violent communication designed to influence audiences broader than the direct recipients of that violence. Consequently, post-terrorist incident responses may significantly shape how a terrorist attack is perceived and its implications. Social media platforms, especially, play a significant role in the modern crisis-communication media ecology and the processes of public sense-making. This paper identifies the need for post-terrorist incident communications strategies, draws out pertinent lessons from a multidisciplinary literature analysis and outlines key considerations for the technology, government and media sectors when creating guidelines to respond to terrorist events.
This paper identifies six key lessons that should guide the development of a post-terrorist incident response framework:
- Post-incident responses need to be calibrated to ‘compete’ against malignant actors (such as terrorist propagandists) in an effort to shape meaning-generation processes in target audiences.
- Post-incident guidelines must harness the ecology of crisis communications of which social media is an important, but not the only, component. No medium of communication is inherently positive or negative. Instead, strategies need to be devised to harness its potential positive effects.
- Social media platforms can play a key role in assisting emergency services and, rather than shutting down after a terrorist attack, these mediums can be used to reassure, advise and inform.
- Social media platforms and media organisations will need to work collaboratively to ensure post-incident reporting frameworks are complementary.
- Social media companies will need to be prepared to remove terrorist content, especially that which is designed to trigger and amplify fear in target audiences, in a timely and appropriate manner.
- Social media platforms can play a significant role in post-incident responses in appreciating and assisting the importance of the online space for bringing communities together in the wake of a terrorist attack as a shared space for grieving and sense-making.
Alastair Reed is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) and an Associate Professor at Swansea University and TU Delft in the Netherlands,
Haroro J Ingram is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) and a Senior Research Fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.