From Family to Facebook to Foreign Fighter – The Attraction of Young Adults to ISIS through Societal Relationships and Social Media

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Tiryakian, Edward A

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How, who, and why are western young adults within the United States and the European Union attracted to modern radical Islamic movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? How have technology and social media aided these movements in areas such as recruitment, retention, and empathy for the organization?
At the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism in 2001, the average foreign fighter in the Middle East was 28 years old. Today, the average age is closer to 21 years old. In the modern age of technology, this current wave of inexperienced jihadists being “radicalized” is now being discussed as a “violent extremist social trend.” Radicalization is not a new concept. Extreme ideology has a long history; yet it has often required face to face exposure to have a lasting effect. These particular Islamic movements appear to inspire both active and sympathetic allegiance by a new group of young fighters via secondary interactions such as internet videos, social media applications and live chats via smart phones. ISIS is considered one of these new radical movements that employs technology to recruit and groom potential members. As terrorist-based groups such as ISIS continue to attract young adults, it is imperative that motivation for joining such groups be researched and analyzed. A “one size fits all” approach to countering violent extremism does not appear to be a viable option for today’s modern, technologically astute society. There are many different pathways to radicalization, and the mechanisms in place that may aid in radicalization operate in different ways for different people at different points in their lives.
Through the research conducted during this thesis, I have discovered that contributing factors such as cult and gang association, mental illness, cultural and societal identity, and social media all have the potential to contribute to the radicalization of individuals. Data analysis and a deeper understanding of marginalization factors (host, parental and traditional cultures) aid in countering the recruitment, retention and empathy for groups such as ISIS. As radicalization is considered a long, social process, governments and citizens must gain a greater understanding of the core elements that exist in these processes and be willing to acknowledge that actions on their part may contribute to the problem or to the solution.





Woodard, Christopher (2017). From Family to Facebook to Foreign Fighter – The Attraction of Young Adults to ISIS through Societal Relationships and Social Media. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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