While physicists may not appear to be a likely choice for foiling a terror attack, Neil Johnson, a physicist from Miami University and team of researchers have built a mathematical model that can sense pattern in the chaotic web world.
According to a recent study published in Journal Science, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues at the university scoured the internet for Pro-Islamic state posts every day between mid-2014 and August 2015. The data collected included mentions of bloodbaths, beheadings etc. in multiple languages, across various sites. Even sites such as Vkontakte, European equivalent of Facebook, were taken into account. Based on their data, they devised a formula that explains activity of Islamic State and its sympathizers online. This, the researchers believe, will be able to predict attacks that are about to happen.
Terrorism and online communication experts acknowledged the research and appreciated the efforts made made by the authors to make their work and data available to other researchers.
"This is an interesting approach, this is a potentially valuable approach, and more research should be done on the approach," said J. M. Berger, a fellow in George Washington University's Program on Extremism and the co-author of "ISIS: The State of Terror." "But to jump ahead to the utility of it, I think, takes more work."
According to Dr. Johnson, the lead study author, the main goal of the study was to initiate "a proper quantitative science of online extremism to replace the black-box narrative that is currently used." The researchers suggested that rather than focusing on millions of people using social media websites, it is better to focus on small groups as they represent a hotbed of activity. This activity also has the potential of pointing to an impending attack. The researchers also added that while the tracking in itself may not be able to point at a specific attack, it can identify conditions that indicate that such an act is about to happen.