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GNOSIS 3/2009
Persuasion in the digital eral

Antonio TETI


Captology, a complicated word to indicate the discipline that studies the utilization of computers to influence ideas and behaviour, from the publicity to the “social” messages on the dangers of smoking and speeding.
Through the inter-activity, the computer performs an operation of persuasion, assuming the role of a credible instrument, of a device of belief. By means of the computer, international terrorist groups have created real and proper cybernetic training camps, in which the militant is persuaded to martyrdom, with an escalation which starts from isolation of the subject from the group or community until the demonization of the enemy.
And, in this way, Information Technology and Internet, which have already supplied significant contributions to the realization of certain terrorist attacks, can become, more and more, instruments of new globalized processes of social de-stabilization.

(Photo Ansa)




The Turing machine

In 1950, Alan Mathison Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians in the world, to whom we owe the creation of the famous “Turing machine”, in his article Computing Machinery and Intelligence, (published in the Mind Review), describes a conceptual experiment, to establish if a machine able to elaborate data (the Computer) was able to think, or not. The experiment, known today as the Turing test was based on the “game of imitation” and was based on the presence of an examiner that had the task of understanding, based solely on a series of questions, whether its interlocutor was male or female. In the test, the English mathematician imagines to substitute the woman with a machine, assigning to the examiner the task of distinguishing the human being from the computer. A series of tests convinced Turing (and not him alone) that, annulling the presence of a physical body (understood as element of the human appearance, intelligence is a fact expressible and recognizable only through well constructed sequences of symbols. In the article, he adds that the future “intelligent machines”, will be able to reach a linguistic capacity such as to allow them to converse with their own interlocutor. Perhaps, without knowing it, he had thrown open a door that, for the epoch, would be unknown and even incomprehensible. In reality, the experiment led to the birth of a new and unthinkable relation between machine and man (and, therefore, the world around him), generating an astonishing question: can machines understand?
Furthermore, the test was based, substantially, on the capacity of a machine to imitate the man and to utilize his same language as a means of communicating with the examiner. Language being an instrument of externalizing the thoughts of man (which are inaccessible ), it results that if the verbal sequences are externalizations of man’s thoughts, what impedes the machine the ability to elaborate mental constructs in function of the memorization of a series of specific questions and answers?
Although in the first part of the 20th Century, psychologist and philosophers were far from hypothesizing possible connections between the human mind and a “mechanical instrument” able to effect some elementary elaborations, Turing posed a problem, which is still much felt in the cognitive sciences today. He, himself, stated “Why should machines not behave in a manner which must be described as thought, but which is very different from what man does”?
At a distance of over 50 years, the intuitions and doubts expressed by Turing appear even more real in virtue of the recent evolutions and discoveries, in particular, in the field of artificial intelligence and, above all, in the development of the future quantum computers. In the full knowledge that in the years to come, the Information Technology reserves for us even more unimaginable discoveries and epoch making transformations, principally, regarding the modalities of communication in the future societies, in this article, we will limit ourselves to analyzing one aspect which, for some time now, has been influencing the methodologies of communication and, above all, the conditioning of man: the utilization of the computer as an instrument of persuasion.


The concept of captology

Turing certainly imagined a rich future of developments and interminable innovations for his “machine”, but probably he was not able to sense what, today, represents one of the biggest peculiarities of this extraordinary technological instrument: the capacity to influence the ideas and behavior of man. Chiefly, during the course of recent years, the computer has assumed – in a way which is not completely transparent to man – a new role in the social fabric, that of a former and, always more frequently, of a persuader – functions which were, traditionally, performed by teachers, priests and, at a higher social level, by the figure of the tutor who, in past times, had the task of instructing, but mainly, wisely advising the young pupil entrusted to him.
Even though created with the precise scope of helping man in increasing the speed of particularly complex calculations, as well as storing and analyzing data and information, currently, the computer allows us to exploit methodologies and functions directed, also, to the persuasion of the human being. The first uses of the computer as instruments of persuasion go back to the early 80’s, and were realized in the United States. Certain computers were designed (connected to Internet) which promoted life-styles and methods of eating to improve the life of man, and had the precise scope of attempting to reduce the diseases deriving from incorrect eating habits. Certain software was also realized which sought to improve productivity in the work place. Thanks to the employment of interactive programmes which, through a series of questions posed to the employee, were able to stimulate the attachment of same to his own work.
However, the first example of “thought” informatics systems for this type of application is certainly ascribable to the end of the 70’s and is known by the name of Body Awareness Resources Network (BARN). Designed with the intention of educating adolescents to discard habits damaging to the health (such as smoking and alcohol), it developed rapidly as a system able to educate the young in bettering their physical form, through advice and indications on life-styles that would lead to improvement in the physical form, also with the inclusion of treatment of problems of a psychological nature. The advent of Internet, and especially, the Web, has led to the development of particularly complex systems ( above all, at the level of psychological interaction between user and informatics systems), which are able to establish a new virtual dimension which can give sensations and emotions that can be perceived as real.
At present, in function of the proliferation of the Web sites, purposely studied and realized to persuade or motivate people to change attitudes and habits, for widely varying reasons, we have reached the formalization of a new science, or object of study: Captology , the discipline that studies the use of the computer to influence ideas and behaviour. It is not a particularly new study; on the contrary, there is no lack of examples of its application, which are, furthermore, rather dated. For example, for many years, the canonical means of communication (posters, radio, magazines, television) have besieged us with messages and commercial spots which have the precise purpose of influencing or directing people to buy certain products, to choose certain locations for vacation, or to vote for this or that political candidate.
Recently, also numerous applications have been implemented to improve man’s life, such as the death messages on cigarette packet, or the electronic signs on the highways, which inform us of the number of deceases occurring during the course of the year due to excessive speed, with the precise intention to persuade the motorist to respect the lawful speed limits. Another emblematic example is given by the widest variety of strategies of psychological conditioning, directed to convince people of a more sportive life and physical well being, not so much for altruistic reasons than for the inexorable growth in the costs of public health.
All actions directed to the change of attitude or behavior of man. In this sense, we can ask, which characteristic attributes to the computer a particular capacity of persuasion over man? The answer is simple: in that which distinguishes it the most, the inter-activity. It is not by chance that the persuasion methodologies reach a higher level of efficacy if they involve inter-activity. In other words, when the instruments utilized are able to adopt their techniques in function of the development of the interaction between the subjects involved.
Let us take, for example, the case of EBay. It is the portal cited among the first of the new research engines when one seeks a product. The moment in which the site is accessed, the auctions are transmitted through a continual interaction between possible buyers and computer bidders. For each single objected sought, similar products are proposed to the possible client, in an attempt to arouse the interest of the user towards other products. Furthermore, at the moment in which an offer is formalized, almost automatically, a contest is started with other users interested in the object. The subsequent offers, almost always exceed the last by a few cents, and very often, in fact, are made by the seller of the product to increase the price of the sale. Moreover, if we consider that there is software able to analyze, through a series of parameters (reply time of the user, money offered, dissimilarities in the sequence of the figures offered etc.,), it is easy to guess that behind the image of other buyers, in reality, specific software is hidden which is able to simulate perfectly a human subject. Therefore, while the user imagines competing with another potential adversary, in the struggle for the product which is the desired object of both, in reality, the user has simple activated a group of mental operations which interact with a relative cognitive instrument: the computer. In the instant that the user has been awarded the product, a sense of gratification is felt and is, sometimes, reinforced by prizes (e.g. in some portals, discounts are offered for subsequent purchases) or recognition of different kinds (added to a mailing list used for draws of prizes, or subscription to a virtual magazine). The mind and the computer interact between themselves and influence, on a cognitive and psycho-social level, a series of events which can involve other individuals.
However, it is the system of elaboration that directs the game: it manages and directs the user in the subsequent actions, imposes a rhythm in the management of the man-machine interaction. It acquires information on the personality of the user, elaborates new strategies of communication in function of the replies to the questions asked. In short, we celebrate that phenomenon of internalization of the computer as a cognitive instrument able to penetrate the mental space of man. In reality, the elaborator assumes almost the conformation of a component outside of the human body, but which interacts and influences the cerebral elaborations of man (figure 1). Basically, those who frequently use the computer, over time, end up by assuming a mindset, in terms of logic and methodologies of analysis, very similar to that of the technological instrument, accepting the process of internalization of the cognitive technological architecture. Therefore, the computer is not simply an instrument able to furnish us with information, but becomes a credible instrument, able to change itself from a device of knowledge and learning to a credible mechanism. Therefore, the human mind, unconsciously, positions itself, with respect to the world that surrounds it, from the cognitive sphere to the psychodynamic and social sphere. The conditioning is such that it influences, at a personal and social level, through opinions, attitudes, prejudices, hopes and illusions. Therefore, basically, the problem is constituted not so much by the actual capacity of computers to act on our minds, with the aim of influencing us, but the scope that one intends to pursue in applying these methodologies.
Therefore, the computer, as an instrument of persuasion, presents a series of unquestionable advantages for man, which are summarized in the following points:
does not suffer from all the typical psychological conditions of man (shyness, fear, tension, joy, pain, surprise etc.,);
they are anonymous instrument;
they can manage enormous quantities of data and information, which can be analyzed, cross referenced and filtered to activate subsequent actions;
they can utilize numerous methodologies of psychological persuasion, applying them in functions of analysis of behavioural and logical parameters;
they have an elaborative capacity superior to the human being and immediate reply times;
they are machines, therefore, that do not have human limits (they do not eat, drink, sleep and never tire).
The above mentioned characteristics allow us to under-stand how computers can easily be utilized to generate intentional persuasive effects, even though we should not forget that, at the same time, they can generate non-intentional consequences on human behaviour. Examples are quickly found: the enormous use of the e-mail has greatly reduced, in a very few years, the use of the traditional postal system (generating a collapse in the sale of postage stamps, and reducing the queues in the post offices), and the advent of the videogame has led to the sedentariness of children, modifying (negatively) also their eating habits.


The psychological conditioning
by the informatics instruments


Another of the greater peculiarities of the use of the computers as instruments of persuasion lies in their anonymity. The people who interact with this instrument and who manifest a tendency to the psychological conditioning that can be exercised on them by this informatics instrument, are particularly sensitive to the guarantees that the computer offers in preserving identity. Especially, when it concerns particularly delicate subject matter (such as sex, abuse, drug addiction etc.), very often it is easier and, at the same time, less embarrassing, to obtain information or services, when anonymity is guaranteed through an informatics procedure connected to the Internet. Furthermore, anonymity also allows one to “mask” or hide one’s personality, showing oneself differently, or furnishing information which permits the transmission of a personal image that does not correspond to reality. Above all, in the “chats”, for example, the shy people assume aggressive attitudes, the introverts assume attitudes of great sociability, and as real cases have shown, people who have deviant tendencies can accentuate their abnormalities, reinforcing an interior security, which can lead to the performance of real acts of violence.
It is not coincidental that captology focuses its attention on the intentional persuasive effects, which are realized through the help of the informatics technologies. The intentionality represents a critical point between the effect that was planned and the collateral one (perhaps, not foreseen) deriving from the use of the technologies.
To better clarify the concept, let us make an example: the e-mails. As we have already mentioned, the success of the use of the e-mail has caused, over a very short time, an almost total abandon of the traditional postal system and this has generated a reduction of jobs (and financial resources) for the post offices. However, the e-mail has also permitted an exponential increase in the communication between people, transforming the modality itself of communicating and influencing many life habits of the people.
Many of these changes were not planned and have generated unexpected collateral effects. Also the videogames have influenced (negatively, from certain aspects) the lives of the people and, especially, those of the recent generations, producing, as a consequence, a total abandon of sports activities and, therefore, social activities, even influencing the social interaction with one’s own kind. What is bullying, if not just the transposition of the scenes of violence imbibed daily, over the course of the years, by generations of children, thanks to the availability of videogames on the play stations and personal computers? More than once, the direct connection between the school and university massacres (from Colombine to the Virginia Polytechnic) and violent videogames has been demonstrated – videogames that teach how to kill in cold blood.
Also, in the case of Meredith Kercher at Perugia, in which the violence was announced on “My Space” and “Facebook”. Then there is the case of the two eighteen year-old boys of Detroit, in 2007, who killed a youngster, whom they did not even know, burning the body to imitate “Manhunt” (2) one of the many violent videogames.
It has been shown, without a shadow of doubt, that the violent videogames exercise an extremely strong psychological conditioning on the young, to the point which can lead them, almost unconsciously, to imitate the actions of these virtual personages with whom they interact. There is no dearth of further examples: Doom (product by Sony Computer Entertainment) was the game mainly used by Michael Carneal, a boy who, in 1997, killed three small children at Paducah, in Kentucky, hitting them on the head with extreme precision, thanks to the training he had acquired playing for hours with his computer. In 2005, the Microsoft produced Gears of War, a game full of violence of every kind, which unites elements of war, horror and science-fiction. All types of arms are used: from the bayonet to the machine gun, from assault rifles to chainsaws (all reproduced with three-dimensional millimeter precision. The software is able to visualize scenes in which it is possible to hack to pieces the body of the enemy with a realism and with spine-chilling, unprecedented particulars.
Even though, I could continue indefinitely in citing lists of the videogames in which the scenes of unheard of violence is accompanied with fearful realism, the greatest disturbing aspect lies in the extraordinary capacity which this software has in the conditioning of the young minds. Basically, they are able to generate a substantial psychological appeasement towards the cruelest actions of violence, so much so as to make them natural, also in a real scenario.


Cyber-terrorism and cybernetics training

The international terrorist groups have also become aware of the capacity of social-psychological conditioning exercised by the computer. These groups have shown great interest in the possible application from the aspect of recruiting and training. In particular, the Islamic Fundamentalist movements have, for some time, started to invest in these modern systems of psychological indoctrination.
For some time, they have been using them for training the Islamic militants and to recruit the future martyrs of the world war against the infidels. The creation of modern camps of cybernetics training, as witnessed also by Gabriel Weimann (expert in informatics security and professor at the Technion Institute of Technology of Haifa and at the University of Mainz, in Germany), constitutes one of the primary objectives of the religious terrorism. The times when the recruiting was done in the Palestinian refugee camps or among the young misfits and/or unemployed in the nations which sympathize with the cause, have almost finished. A new era has begun: that of the cyber terrorism, which lurks among the hundreds of thousands of computers connected to the networks and systems of encrypted transmission of messages transmitted from one part of the globe to another.
Anthony Stahelski, professor of Psychology at the Central Washington University, has identified five phases of social psychological conditioning, through computers, which are used by the terrorist groups and which have a decided similarity to the traditional techniques used for the recruiting of sympathizers.
A further analysis conducted on the personal affairs of the extremists, has shown that the major part of them come from families in which the father figure is almost always absent or even inexistent. In any event, they come from families in which there is no role-guide figure by whom they can be inspired. Added to this, the young martyrs almost always have significant difficulty in forming relations outside of their own family nucleus (e.g. at school or in the work place), and therefore, they are led to develop a natural propensity to find fulfillment in technological instrument – impersonal and indirect – which can offer them, ostensibly, a greater acceptance or an environment of sincere brotherhood ( even if, at the beginning, only in a virtual way).Let us examine, therefore, the five phases of the process which we shall define as “network recruitment”.

First Phase: depluralization. Isolation from groups or communities in order to marginalize the person and make him more sensitive to the propaganda messages. In this stage, the procedure of distancing the subject from the family is made, to avoid what could be constituted an element of danger to the realization of the isolation of the individual.
It is a slow process, which can require years, but tends to gather a multiplicity of subjects, who are integrated with groups of people who share radical ideas, but not so excessive as to generate radical nuclei of extremists, immediately. This comes about only in the moment that the initiates are ideologically and emotionally ready. The chats, forums, portals information collectors, the community and social software are the privileged instruments in favouring the selection and the subsequent socialization among the possible candidates.

Second Phase: the self-deindividuation. The zeroing of the identity of a person. Better known as identity destruction, is the phase in which is effected the reconstruction of the new identity of the chosen individual. In function of the analysis of a series of elements, extrapolated through questions and simulations effected on the subject, over time, it is possible to identify the most appropriate role for same, individuating the most suitable process of indoctrination. For example, in the case in which the candidate presents a marked capacity for acquisition of information and, at the same time, a minor propensity for action, he will be used primarily for the collection of information in the field.
Vice versa, the most sportive and audacious subject will be employed in operative modalities. In this phase, also the habits of the candidate will be modified. Then the first formative course is allocated, in which is supplied information on how to dress, to observe body-language, on attitudes to assume and, above all, on the behavioural regulations which guarantee absolute anonymity and which must always be rigidly observed.
Subsequently, the specific formation is carried out, which is based on the knowledge of the facilities which will be used for the vocational aptitude profile (the use of audio-visual electronic devices, computers, software and operative systems, security informatics, management of the cellular telephony, use and management of the different types of weapons, construction of explosives, combat techniques etc.,).
The formation is supplied through documentation in digital format (manuals and guides with photos and drawings), accompanied by film clips of real scenes and simulations of various kinds.
This is also the moment in which the figure of a group leader is defined (usually attributed to the coordinator of the group), who imparts his own directives, even if not yet in a categorical manner, justifying the observance of same as one of the conditions for the completion of the formative procedure.
All the subjects who reach this stage have matured the full knowledge of their dedication to the cause and they feel integrated and fundamental elements of the new ideology to which they belong.

Third Phase: another deindividuation. Definitive break with all those who do not belong to the professed ideology and to the new community of thought. The isolation of the individual from the modus pensandi of the western societies is perfected. The western societies are described as infidels, corrupted and degraded and the ideology that sees the rest of the world as unnatural and undeserving in the eyes of the Islamic faith is reinforced. All that which is not ascribable to Islam is generally defined with the term “they’re all the same”..

Fourth Phase: dehumanization. It is the phase in which the infidels are turned into enemies. Through methods of particular indoctrination, the followers see “the others” as dehumanized objects, regarded as simple components of a diabolical mechanism which has, as its objective, the destruction of the Islamic faith and the zeroing of the groups of “patriots of Islam”.
In this way, “the others” are seen as easy targets to attack, without feeling any guilt or shame. The infidels are often defined as animals (rats, cockroaches etc.,) or just filth (dirt, germs). In addition, the conviction is solidified that the elimination of same cannot help but be seen as an action worthy of a real patriot and merits respect and absolute recognition by the Islamic world.

Fifth Phase: demonization. Represents the conclusive phase of the formation process of the disciples of terrorism. The demonization of the enemy represents the path to enter the paradise of the martyrs of Allah, (with promises and guarantees which go beyond death, such as the promise of entrance to the Islamic Paradise and of the seventy virgins with whom to spend the eternal life).
The destruction of the Western civilization, degraded and wicked, cannot but represent the supreme good for the entire world. To destroy evil becomes, therefore, the act of the righteous and permits the attainment of one’s spiritual salvation.
All the phases examined can be entirely managed through the help of the informatics technologies (thanks to Web and the Internet) and only at the termination of these phases is it possible to pass to the practical-operative part, to perfect and improve the teachings received.
The use of this on-line process of formation and conditioning of the new recruits of the terrorist world has grown significantly, thank also to the minor costs of realization that it requires (less live training with consequent reduction of the risks derives from the massive use of the training camps in the Islamic-friendly Countries of the Middle East block).
Furthermore, Internet makes it possible to reach the whole planet and, therefore, increases de facto the dimensions of the catchment area on which to operate to identify the new levers of terrorism.
It has also been discovered, thanks to the Network, that it is possible to gather adhesion from the young people belonging to more elevated social classes, who, although culturally more developed, adhere to the dictates of the terrorist culture, thanks to the elaborate techniques of persuasion, already cited. All this, however, should not surprise, on the contrary, we should not forget that Bin Laden himself is a millionaire…
In the recruiting phase of the young terrorists, Internet sites and chat forums are used, especially by Al Qaeda, not only for propaganda, but as we have been able to understand, principally for the formation. The Web, in particular, rapid, universal, accessible and powerful in its potentiality, makes it possible to reach anyone who has the most elementary digital device for Network connection.
In this sense, the single individual, preferably isolated at a social level, but who has the possibility to connect with Internet, can feel an integral part of something, of an idea, of a project, of a dream or simply something that makes him feel important in the eyes of the other components of the community to which he adheres. Furthermore, the path that the terrorist sympathizer must follow is not particularly arduous. In fact, it is sufficient to make a rapid search on the Internet to obtain numerous propaganda web site addresses of religious extremism, which are able to understand immediately the interest of the possible initiate.
Usually, one starts with a press release or, even better, with a video produced by jihadist groups, who praise the Islamic faith and the fight against the infidels, and one proceeds with film clips that reproduce scenes of death and destruction of the Gaza Strip, or Iraq and Afghanistan. In all of them the torment and desperation of the Islamic people prevail, with the consequent condemnation of the western civilizations, principally, those allied to the United States.
The supporter is asked to register on the portal, furnishing, if wished, simply a fictitious name. Usually, e-mail addresses are not requested (because they are easily traceable) and he who proceeds with the registration is given a user name and a password to access the site. In this way, the transmission of the messages on the network, which would be generated by the transmission of the e-mails, is totally eliminated.
The e-mails can be intercepted and the messages contained therein, travel mostly as they were composed (that is, they are not encrypted). Through this method the communications are managed within the inbox of the server’s e-mail and the communications do not travel outside. The communications of the September 11 terrorists were managed through this simple system of accessing the server, reading the various messages which they exchanged in succession.
As if this was not enough, the Islamic fighters are continually updated on the so-called “owl sites”, which are utilized as bait to identify the sympathizers of terrorism.
The relation that is established with the possible supporters of the cause is constantly monitored on the net by controllers who are experts in informatics and sociology. The intent of the controllers is to verify the behaviour of the possible initiates, trying to understand how they think, how they reply to questions, how they react to different stimuli, also to verifying the possibility that the interlocutor could be a spy who is trying to infiltrate the terrorist cell. When the ideological mix has reached its peak (usually after a relatively long period) one comes to the “preparation” phase of the militant.
If, up to some years ago, the possible activists were recruited exclusively on the streets, to then be rapidly transferred to secret camps for training in Countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, at the present time, the cyberspace is increasingly used for all the basic formation and also for a part of the advanced. But the potential of Internet has no boundaries.
Al Qaeda has activated different sites in which films are given showing how to use weapons, how to successfully carry out a kidnapping or how to fabricate bombs using fertilizing substances. In Iraq, the terrorists often use the satellite images available on the Internet portal, Google Earth, to localize the targets for the attacks. Another issue of cyber-terrorism is the one that refers to the forms of indoctrination exercised on children.
Weimann himself, during a conference, showed images of a video downloaded on Internet, which showed children reciting the decapitation of an American contractor in Iran (Nicholas Berg). At the present, the site which had initially put the video on line (www.al-ansar.biz, seems no longer able to offer the tragic and truculent video of the execution. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note (through a simple search on-line) that the site is registered under the name of a Danish citizen (Omar AbuOmar) and that all the personal data ascribable to the subject are of public domain. Perhaps, to download this gory video, it is sufficient to contact him by e-mail?

Data on titles of the www.al-ansar.biz domain
Registrant Name: Omar AbuOmar
Registrant Organization: Al-ansar Biz
Registrant Address1: new dream st 33
Registrant City: Nurnberg
Registrant Postal Code: 42114
Registrant Country: Denmark
Registrant Country Code: DK
Registrant Phone Number:
+965.15441211
Registrant E-mail:
alansar_alansar@hotmail.com

Among the many sites projected for the scopes previously indicated, the one that I think merits particular attention is Awladna.net (http://awladnaa.net/) Using a common software of address tracing IP (70.38.11.201), we can deduce that the web-server is located in Canada (figure 2), but the owner organization is located in Egypt (lazezhost.com, Cairo, Gi, 12561, Egypt). In addition, it is interesting to note that the domain is managed by a society located in Iran (WebAra E-commerce Group N 167, Farhad 25, Mashhad, BN15 9EZ, Iran) and that it responds to the domain www.mihannic.com (70.38.11.213), the server of which is also physically located in Canada (all the information is extrapolated using the portal www.netcraft.com). Many of the sites that praise the Jihad are located in the western Countries and a good many are hosted in Countries numbered among the “rogue States”. In many cases, the portals are activated for brief periods. They remain open for some months and subsequently are deactivated to reappear in different Nations through a mechanism of web migration, which renders the mapping of the transfers very complicated. A further complications is the fact that different regulations exist in the various Countries, which regulate the use of the Internet network.

Figura 2 - Tracciamento dell'indirizzo IP di Awladna.net
 
At this point, let us examine the portal of Awladna.net: very well projected for the utilization intended for children, the windows follow one another in a cheerful alternation of colours and images. Useful advice is dispensed to very young children, like, for example, what is the correct behaviour to observe in each occasion: from marriages, funerals, typologies of school games, to the rigid observance of the moments of prayer in the mosque. Moreover, the web pages guide the young boy in the use of the computer, offering, at the same time, basic notions of history and geography. Yet, from the bright and showy colours and the proposed games, less innocent and certainly dangerous messages are filtered through.
The pages in which there are declared manifestations of hatred and resentment towards the Hebrew world are not late in arriving.
In some of these pages, there are clear and direct messages, such as, “nobody dies when they die for Allah, but he will live in eternity with Him”.
Comments are not lacking which praise the martyrs of the Palestinian cause, and which accuse the Hebrews of barbarism and wickedness of all kinds.
But the most disturbing aspect is that these sentiments emerge also from the letters and interventions of children who assume extreme positions and who express sentiments of hatred and violence. Of particular importance is the advice given to a child, who is reminded that “the Zionists are not only your enemies, but enemies of all humanity”.

Figura 3 - Tracciamento dell'indirizzo IP di Ekhlaas.org
 

The portal of Awladna.net is only one example that demonstrates how a simple web server can assume the role of the means of persuasion for a young mind.
The greatest risk lies in the conviction that the Middle East Countries do not have the means, the culture and, above all, the preparation to face a future which relies more and more on the modern informatics technologies. One single example: some months ago, Secure Computing, a specialized company in informatics security, stated that the informatics technicians of Al Qaeda had developed a software able to hide one’s identity and position in Internet (address IP), through special encryption algorithms. The programme is called Mujahideen Secrets 2, and praises the level of knowledge and capacity of the informatics of the terrorist groups, almost equal to that of the western Countries. Furthermore, it seems that the new jihadist programme has been distributed through Ekhlaas.org server (figure 3) with Headquarters in the United States (Houston and Texas).
The software was available free, by utilizing a protected password on the site. In addition, it seems that the Ekhlaas.org site has often been used by Al Qaeda for the management of messages. Following certain reports made to the FBI, the site was deactivated.



The credibility of the computer

Not even Aristotle, who, in Classical Greece, was one of the principal exponents of rhetoric (the art of persuasion in any situation), could never have imagined that man could have disposed of technological instruments able to be used as formidable instruments of persuasion. In his time, rhetoric consisted in speaking in public and being able, in this way, to influence the listeners. It is not by chance, that as an essential component of their education, the cultured Greeks studied how to develop the oratorical ability, so as to be able to influence the mood of the people, conditioning their opinions in the last attempt to push them to act.
The concept remains the same, but the methods have changed, and have gone beyond transnational boundaries. In spite of this, the potential of the computer, in terms of credibility, should be object of particular interest on the part of the governments of the planet. In a cyber-society, more and more governed by instruments that interact with the Internet network, the verification would be desirable, of the feasibility of reaching an international agreement that is able to parameterize the correct management and use of the content on the Web.
We are facing a new era in which the risk of profound mutations of a political, social, economic and religious character, assume a real connotation. In these scenarios of strong instability at world level, the Information Technology and Internet can represent valid instruments of persuasion to spark off protests and agitation, which could easily degenerate into actions of social de-stabilization.
Certainly, to govern a world system of interconnection of computer on the Web is not a simple thing, but the dangers are constantly increasing. And it is shown by the fact that the Internet network (and it has been amply demonstrated) has always supplied a considerable contribution to the realization of all the terrorist attacks of the last decade.
Now a new problem is posed: its use for the strategy of persuasion useful for the formation of the new levers of international terrorism. It is a new threat which, if not speedily faced, risks producing an exponential increase of new terrorists. Certainly, the aspect on which to reflect with great attention is represented by the credibility of the computer.
Without credibility, the portals would not be able to persuade the users – modifying attitudes and behaviour. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary that the governments understand soon the importance of the credibility on-line, endeavouring to operate, as soon as possible, both in the definition of the design of the formative systems, and in the control of the purposes pursued by those who realize such systems.



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