The online fight against terror

Friday 15/01/2016

The fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadist terror groups continues on several fronts, including the internet.
Following recent terrorist incidents in the United States, the US-based, high-tech industry is showing more willing­ness to join the fight against online recruitment and radicalisation that affects the Middle East and North Africa, indeed the whole world.
The recent meeting of senior US government officials and top executives from the tech industry in San Jose, California, is a step in the right direction. Without the help of global technology companies, no major progress can be accomplished in preventing jihadists from exploiting the internet.
Private tech companies have a legitimate concern about not infringing on freedom of communication or being perceived as too close to any government but they cannot look the other way as the internet serves as a dangerous instrument for terrorist organisations. The international community, and countries of the Middle East and North Africa in particular, look forward to tangible fruits from the new government-industry collaboration.
Silicon Valley corporations have a duty towards their country but they also have a duty as world citizens. The recent ban on “hateful speech” by the social media company Twitter came not a moment too soon. A Brookings Institution report revealed that ISIS operated more than 46,000 Twitter accounts just in 2014. The company’s new policy will go a long way towards addressing this unfortunate situation.
A Facebook spokesman said the company “does not tolerate terrorists or terror propaganda and we work aggressively to remove it as we become aware of it”. Let us hope that this statement of intent is soon translated into action.
Another reasonable decision was the announcement by the US State Department that it is “revamping its counter-violent-extremist communications efforts through a new Global Engagement Center”, which will “focus more on empowering and enabling partners, governmental and non-governmental, who are able to speak out against these groups”. This constitutes a welcome realisation that the effects of a direct government role are, unfortunately, limited. One such non-governmental organisation is the Abu Dhabi-based Sawab Centre, which after only six months has had more than 420 million web hits.
More civil society and youth-focused initiatives from the Arab and Muslim world are needed to debunk the ISIS narrative, especially now that its myth of invulnerability has been badly damaged by setbacks suffered by ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Silicon Valley’s new commitment to the effort, along with effective but behind-the-scenes government support, should be directed towards ensuring that these civil society initiatives receive all the support they can get.
The use of the internet by jihadists to lure vulnerable young people to their horrendous designs is one of the most immediate problems facing the Arab world today as thousands of young people continue to join the killing fields of the Levant and elsewhere.
More cooperation between Arab countries and major tech compa­nies in this regard could be necessary in the future for the common interest of all humanity.