Social media can play a role in countering the terror messages from extremists. EPA/Andy Rain
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in calling on social media companies to crack down on extremist material being published by users.
It comes in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Australia and Britain.
Facebook is considered a hotbed for terrorist recruitment, incitement, propaganda and the spreading of radical thinking. Twitter, YouTube and encrypted services such WhatsApp and Telegram are also implicated.
Addressing the extent of such content on social media requires international cooperation from large social media platforms themselves and encrypted services.
Some of that work is already underway by many social media operators, with Facebook’s rules on this leaked only last month. Twitter says that in one six-month period it has suspended 376,890 accounts related to the promotion of terrorism.
While these measures are a good start, more can be done. A focus on disruption, encryption, recruitment and creating counter-narratives is recommended.
Disruption of terrorists on social media involves reporting and taking down of radical elements and acts of violence, whether that be radical accounts or posted content that breaches community safety and standards.
This is critical both in timing and eradication.
Disruption is vital for removing extreme content and breaking the flow-on effect while someone is in the process of being recruited by extremists.
Taking down accounts and content is difficult as there is often a large volume of content to remove. Sometimes it is not removed as quickly as needed. In addition, extremists typically have multiple accounts and can operate under various aliases at the same time.
When Islamic extremists use encrypted channels, it makes the fight against terrorism much harder. Extremists readily shift from public forums to encrypted areas, and often work in both simultaneously.
Encrypted networks are fast becoming a problem because of the “burn time” (destruction of messages) and the fact that extremists can communicate mostly undetected.
Operations to attack and kill members of the public in the West have been propagated on these encrypted networks.
The extremists set up a unique way of communicating within encrypted channels to offer advice. That way a terrorist can directly communicate with the Islamic State group and receive directives to undertake an attack in a specific country, including operational methods and procedures.
This is extremely concerning, and authorities – including intelligence agencies and federal police – require access to encrypted networks to do their work more effectively. They need the ability to access servers to obtain vital information to help thwart possible attacks on home soil.
This access will need to be granted in consultation with the companies that offer these services. But such access could be challenging and there could also be a backlash from privacy groups.
It was once thought that the process of recruitment occurred over extended periods of time. This is true in some instances, and it depends on a multitude of individual experiences, personality types, one’s perception of identity, and the types of strategies and techniques used in the recruitment process.
There is no one path toward violent extremism, but what makes the process of recruitment quicker is the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) method used by terrorists.