Foreign Fighters in Their Own Words: Using YouTube as a source
YouTube as a tool for gaining insights in the foreign fighter phenomenon: who are they, why do they go and where will they go next?
By using YouTube as a source, valuable information can be obtained that could not be retrieved (safely) via other sources. Through YouTube, it is possible to know what foreign fighters say in their own words without researchers having to travel to a war-torn country. This form of research enables researchers to observe the phenomenon of foreign fighters in a new way. Previous research on foreign fighters and similar subjects mostly had a theoretical approach or subjects were interviewed in a face-to-face setting. Nowadays, researchers have more options to study 'unreachable' subjects with the existence of social media. So why not use videos in which fighters talk about what they do and why?
The research results reveal that many fighters are often from humble backgrounds. They travelled to Syria because of ideological and religious reasons, but also out of personal experiences. Others felt angry with Western countries and joined the jihad to get revenge: “…not just Bashar and his troops, American and their troops, the jehoo [sic] and their troops, China and their troops, Russia, NATO, everyone have gone into lands and killed many Muslims, your brothers, your sisters. So how can you say that the land where there are many people who have died…” A lot of foreign fighters are not concerned with their future. Some decide to stay for a few more years while others have not given it any thought so far.
This information could otherwise not have been retrieved or only through direct contact with the foreign fighters, either face-to-face or through services such as Skype. However, getting in contact with these fighters is difficult since it will take a long time to gain their trust. They are worried about their safety and for researchers it is extremely dangerous to travel to Syria. YouTube also provides the viewers with an ‘image’ of the fighter, while other social media such as Facebook and Twitter is mostly text based. While our research only focused on what they said, other research might include analysis of facial expressions to get a more complete picture of these fighters.