Prevention of social media radicalization

Posted on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Eslam Shaaban*

No one can deny the significant development of security measures after 9/11 all over the world in order to try to prevent threats of terrorist attacks. However, terrorist groups have developed their strategies by not relying on sending terrorists to other countries. Instead, they remotely work on radicalizing teenagers and young people in other countries through social media. The people working to remotely radicalize teenagers and young people using online social media websites exploit the minimal level of control of published content and the strong values for freedom of expression and against censorship. It is easy for a regular social media user to find not only hate speech but hate crimes and terrorist crimes supporters and promoters. A very surprising fact is that ISIS members have many accounts with thousands of followers all over the world on Twitter and Facebook promoting their crimes to the public.

In January 27, 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs had a very comprehensive discussion and much of the testimony showed the severity of the cyber terrorism activities. One of the most important testimonies was that of Mr. J.M. Berger who stated that “at least 45,000 Twitter accounts [are] used by ISIS supporters.” ISIS members are granted an absolute freedom of speech to express their hate and extremist speech. They are granted a space to show and promote their crimes and to recruit teenagers from around the world in addition to fundraising. According to an article recently published online in the newspaper "Le Monde" Comment l'Etat islamique a réorganisé son armée numérique sur Twitter? ISIS described their online terrorism propaganda as their internet army. So they understand the importance of social media for promoting their crimes. In addition they know exactly who their target audience is and how to control and convince. While on the other side there is no significant anti-terrorism activity except the anti-terrorism laws in most of the countries that have been exposed to terrorist attacks.

In Canada, the legal system criminalizes hate speech and Bill C-51 provides some anti-terrorist legal measures. However, to stop radicalization of teenagers and young people in the local community, we must think about the international nature of the threat and the extraterritoriality of social media and the internet in general. In order to face this kind of threat there must be a comprehensive, international framework that all the international community members participate in drafting and implementing.

First of all, there must be a high level of cooperation between governments, international organizations and social media websites as well as internet corporations, to ensure the existence of very strict rules that ban or filter these kinds of posts using the same method of filtering any posts or activities related to child pornography. This could take place through a proper international legal framework in addition to the necessary technical measures to filter and ban any terrorism related posts, tweets, videos or accounts on any internet platform and in any language. However, the true challenge will be the application of the proper anti-terrorism measures without any breach of freedom of expression.

The most important anti-terrorism strategy must be facing radical ideologies through moderate ideologies in a very simple and modern form. The moderate ideologies must be created by scholars and presented by teenagers and young people. However, all the concerned parties must ensure that the moderate ideologies are as easy as or easier to access than the radicalized speech and propaganda.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued a very comprehensive report entitled “The Use of The Internet for Terrorist Purposes.” This report states that intelligence agencies are using online terrorist propaganda to collect certain information that helps them prevent future terrorist attacks. I am not sure whether this approach is still used, and note that this report was issued in 2012 before the significant rise of online terrorism propaganda that took place starting in 2013. I believe that keeping online terrorism propaganda, although it might help in collecting information, however, it exceeds the number of unknown radicalized teenagers affected by the said propaganda as they feel that no one can stop the said terrorist group.

* Eslam Shaaban is a doctoral candidate in Law at University of Ottawa and Research Assistant at the Centre for Law, Technology and Society for Professor Teresa Scassa. His main research interests are intellectual property, online freedom of expression, hate speech and corporate finance.

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