“Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq” is a new article by Jytte Klausen that will appear in the next issue of Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Klausen is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation in the politics department at Brandeis University, and she is a recent recipient of the Brandeis Open Access Fund. The fund paid for Professor Klausen’s article processing charge, which enabled her article to become Open Access and available to readers around the globe through the Brandeis Institutional Repository and the journal’s website. On December 11th, Patrick Gamsby interviewed Professor Klausen about her research and Open Access.
Question: Could you describe your article and the research that went into it?
The research is part of a larger project that I have been running since 2006 on Westerners in the Al-Qaeda inspired terrorist networks. About a year ago, I became very interested in the use of Twitter as a means of communication between Westerners who have gone off to fight in Iraq and Syria, and their real life connections back home. So I started coding, identifying, accounts that from their content appeared to belong to people who were actually fighting in Iraq and Syria. Together with undergraduate research assistants who work with me, I began to code some of these accounts for their number of followers and followings. Those are the types of posts that are account holders who are regular subscribers, one might say, to these Twitter accounts. And, in turn, also looking at the ones that Western foreign fighters were subscribing to. Together, these accounts create a network. In this network, information flows from the people who are the most influential to those who subscribe to accounts and disseminate the content. So I was very interested in analyzing these structures of communication, as well as the content.
Question: Was Open Access on your mind when you submitted this article for publication?
No, it wasn’t, because I’m sort of old school. In the social sciences, Open Access has not yet become very common. It wasn’t until the article had been accepted and I got the contract from the journal that I became aware that there was actually an embargo on my article for about 18 months, during which time only people that subscribe to the print version of this journal would have access. Naturally, that was not a great idea, for a number of reasons. This is research of a very timely matter. 18 months in the world of social media developments is really a long time. If most people couldn’t read my article until 18 months in the future, I was very afraid that my research at that time would be pretty outdated.
Question: How did you hear about the Brandeis Open Access Fund?
I didn’t know about it, but I mentioned it to one of the research librarians at the University and she said “Well, actually, we have a fund for this.” That’s when I then submitted an application to have the Open Access Fund pay the fee for making my article available immediately. I had originally thought, when I got the contract, that this is something that I could maybe pay myself. Naturally, I can’t, because it’s nearly $3000.
Question: Before applying for the fund, did you know much about Open Access?
I knew about it as a theoretical discussion, and I knew about it as a matter of practice in the natural sciences. I had not yet come across it in the social sciences, which is why I said I’m sort of “old school.” I think Open Access has two very important aspects to it. One is that you reach a far larger readership than normal subscribers of a particular journal. The other aspect, of course, is the feedback loop from new journal policies. Trying to make the economics of journal publications feasible, journals increasingly make access closed, as a benefit to their subscribers, which clearly has a very negative impact on distribution of research.
Question: What kind of impact has Open Access had on your specific article?
In the course of two weeks, I had over 1000 views of this article. In fact, I wasn’t even myself aware that it had already been posted until two journalists called me from the Netherlands, who had read my article online.
Question: What do you think about restrictions on access to research in general (embargoes, paywalls, etc.), and what happens to the research ecosystem when there are restrictions to access?
It slows down the ecosystem. It slows down the distribution of research, very dramatically. Another call I got yesterday was from a professor at West Point who had read my article and is doing somewhat similar work, and wanted to collaborate with me. We are now in discussion to build on what I wrote to produce some collaborative research. I would say that the benefits that I’ve had from this Open Access opportunity have been tremendous in terms of distribution, or getting my research out to a very large readership very quickly, and getting feedback already, and engaging in new research that builds upon what I’ve already done. As I mentioned in response to one of your previous questions, this is a very fast moving field – working on the whole question about how networks built on social media. It’s not just related to terrorism, where there are obvious immediate security aspects to finding out exactly how organization for terrorism works online, but it is also a more generalized, theoretical interest and understanding of the social organization online and real life, and the relationship between the two types of organization.