Open Access Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
© 2018 Ari E Weil
Shifts in culture and technology have changed the manifestation of celebrity in modern society, culminating in the practice of internet microcelebrity, where one views followers as fans, produces content consistent with a personal brand, and engages in strategic interaction with devotees. This thesis examines how those effects have also changed how terrorists present themselves and operationalize celebrity status. An original typology of terrorist celebrity is presented: traditional, martyr, and internet micro-celebrity. Two in-depth case studies of terrorist micro-celebrities are analyzed: Anwar al-Awlaki of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Junaid Hussain of the Islamic State. The case studies are examined through content analysis of social media postings, personal chat transcripts, as well as mainstream media coverage of the individuals used to reconstruct their biographies. Following mainstream trends, these terrorist internet celebrities have built personal brands that target specific communities. Awlaki targeted English-speaking Muslims living in the West and IS foreign fighters like Hussain often target young people in the fighter’s countries of origin. Their online personas are created to be relatable and engaging to those specific audiences. Ultimately, mainstream celebrity trends have bled into terrorist behavior. By creating brands and managing them through micro-celebrity practices, terrorists have effectively weaponized online celebrity, using it for recruitment and planning.
Weil, Ari, "Terrorist Celebrity: Online Personal Branding and Jihadist Recruitment and Planning" (2018). Pomona Senior Theses. 206.