Our 2019 End of Year Report is here! 2019 was a busy year for Tech Against Terrorism as we continued to provide support to smaller tech platforms in tackling terrorist use of their service whilst respecting human rights. We increased our knowledge sharing activity to build resilience and awareness across the tech ecosystem, and expanded our programme of work to include a more diverse set of approaches, including:
- Introducing the Tech Against Terrorism Mentorship programme to support the GIFCT Membership scheme
- Introducing of a password protection system on Jihadology.net, to protect the site from use by terrorists whilst preserving its status as the central hub for terrorist content for academic research purposes
- Securing funding and commencing planning for the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform, the world’s first free centralised database of verified terrorist content aiming to support smaller tech companies improve content moderation
- Launching the Tech Against Terrorism Podcast
- Organising of four global workshops on behalf of the GIFCT and five webinars for practical knowledge and best practice sharing with smaller tech companies
As we all began work from home in the wake of the current pandemic, we continued our knowledge sharing activities with a focus on open-source intelligence. We organised three webinars in March, on the topics of:
- OSINT Introduction to the current online islamist terrorism landscape
- OSINT Introduction to the online far-right violent extremist landscape
- Virtual OSINT Breakfast webinar covering various subjects, including location intelligence, Twitter analytics tools, accelerationist far-right violent extremists and the Covid-19 crisis
Transparency reporting for smaller platforms: Earlier this month we published a blogpost on the challenges of transparency reporting faced by smaller tech platforms, including our recommendations for government and tech companies. While transparency reporting is an important way for the tech sector to increase awareness of its internal content moderation decision-making processes and to increase transparency around information and takedown requests made by external entities, smaller tech platforms might lack the capacity to regularly capture the relevant data and publish transparency reports. For more information on this topic, please register for our webinar, below.
Renaissance Numerique interviewed our Research Manager, Jacob Berntsson, to discuss the work of Tech Against Terrorism and how we can support tech platforms, notably through the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform [the original interview in French is available here]
What’s up next?
Our monthly e-learning webinars series continues, with two upcoming webinars on the topics of transparency reporting and tech sector and law enforcement engagement. To find out more and to register, click the links below:
- Register for “Transparency reporting for tech companies” webinar on 8 April here
- Register for “Tech sector & law enforcement engagement in countering terrorist use of the internet” webinar on 6 May here
Season 2 of the Tech Against Terrorism Podcast is in preparation! The first episode of the season will cover the Nordic neo-Nazi scene and its use of the internet. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to be the first to know when the podcast is released.
Tech Against Terrorism Reader’s Digest – 3 April
Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.
Terrorist and violent extremist use of the Internet
- Countering extremists on social media: challenges for strategic communication and content moderation: With a focus on strategic communications and the use of counter-narratives, both formal and informal, Policy & Internet’s (P&I) latest issue offers a comprehensive analysis of the different “non-coercive” strategies available to lead individuals to disengage from extremist views. Further to strategic communication, P&I also assesses the effects of content moderation and its possible counter-productive outcomes, as well as the role that alternative media plays in the communication infrastructure to undermine the work of counter violent extremism. (Policy & Internet, 16.03.2020)
- How the coronavirus is reshaping terrorists’ attack plans: The current coronavirus is not only impacting ordinary people’s lives, it is also changing how terrorists and violent extremists (T/VE) across ideologies are envisioning plans of attack – in many different ways. Some actors are putting their plans on hold, others rushing to carry them on while they still can, while others see the crisis as an accelerating factor to act on plans that have long been in the pipeline. Politico demonstrates these with the case of an Islamic State supporter who attempted to rush to Syria before countries closed their borders and airlines grounded their flights; as well as with last week’s arrest of a man who planned to bomb a hospital treating coronavirus patients in Missouri. While the man had been thinking about an attack for a while, the crisis provided him with a target and a motivation to enact his plan. (Politico, 27.03.2020)
- Dealing with returning foreign terrorist fighters: insights from the Moroccan experience:In this article, Berrada provides an overview of the history of Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters, covering the recent wave of FTFs who joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as previous waves who travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s and to Iraq in the early 2000s. Berrada then assesses Morocco’s strategy to deal with returnees, developing on the existing security and legal approach that targets the dismantlement of terrorist cells, the deradicalisation programmes deployed in prisons, as well as Morocco’s reforming of the religious sphere in favour of the “more moderate Moroccan version of Islam”. (Berrada, European Eye on Radicalisation, 25.03.2020)
- Kimberly Pullman: a Canadian woman lured over the internet to the ISIS Caliphate: Writing about the case of Kimberly Pullman, a Canadian woman who joined the Islamic State (IS) in Syria in 2015 as a nurse, Anne Speckhard develops on the impact of the internet on an individual’s recruitment process into a terrorist organisation. With a focus on individuals who were solely recruited online, Speckhard dwells on the importance of personal relationships and of a support network between IS supporters in recruitment. (Speckhard, HomelandSecurity Today.us, 31.03.2020)
- Coronavirus: how Islamic State militants are reacting to the outbreak: Valerio Mazzoni reviews how different Islamist terrorist groups have been reacting to the current health crisis. Mazzoni highlights how groups of different sizes are likely to exploit the crisis to their advantage, with more localist groups strengthening their regional grip and influence (such as with the Taliban and Shi’ite militias), and groups with a more important international outreach spreading fear in Western countries (al-Qaeda and the Islamic State). (Mazzoni, European Eye on Radicalisation, 30.03.2020)
Far-right violent extremism and terrorism
- Can we de-radicalise the far-right: Newsroom discusses the deradicalisation of far-right violent extremists with former “race realist” Caleb Cain. In this discussion, Cain underlines the need to understand what led people to radicalise in the first place, and the importance of basing deradicalisation on the same radicalisation strategies that are deployed by far-right violent extremists. Cain thus develops on the Manhattan Project of counter-messaging and deradicalisation, the media lab for counter-messaging that he has been setting up in collaboration with Kurt Braddoc (Penn State University). He hopes to use social media algorithms to the advantage of deradicalisation, to build “counter-networks on social media platforms to the far-right.” (Newsroom, 26.03.2020
- Member states concerned by the growing and increasingly transnational threat of extreme right-wing terrorism: Following increased concern from Member States with regard to “the growing and increasingly transnational threat posed by extreme right-wing terrorism,” the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate’s (UNCTED) latest Trends Alerts analyses the threat posed by far-right violent extremists across the world. The report explores the use of the internet for radicalisation and mobilisation purposes, financing, the influence of gender on this violent extremism, and the human rights violations resulting from far-right violent extremism. CTED further assesses some of the challenges related to the identification, classification, and prosecution of far-right violent extremism acts by Member States. Finally, CTED provides information on current approaches to respond to the threat, highlighting the work of cross-sector initiatives such as Tech Against Terrorism and the GIFCT. (CTED Trend Alerts, April 2020)
- How the radical right weaponizes memes: In this article, Chamila Liyanage analyses memes as a critical instrument for “far-right populist nationalis[t]” movements to conduct their metapolitical struggle, aiming at bringing a long term cultural transformation that favours their values. Liyanage develops on the viral characteristics of memes in our digital universe, and their capacity to spread a message to an otherwise apolitical population regardless of physical boundaries. (Liyanage, CARR, 27.03.2020)
- EU industry chef: coronavirus crisis could be turning point for big tech: Continuing to affect our lives in a myriad of ways, the current health crisis could have the “unexpected consequence” of increased dialogue and cooperation between tech companies and EU politicians. With tech platforms playing a crucial role in the Covid-19 crisis – from platforms that support small businesses to content providers for those stuck at home, as well as providing anonymised data to predict the spread of the virus – the article looks at how the current situation might have longer term impacts on the relationship between tech platforms and the EU. Thierry Breton, EU Internal Market Commissioner, commented on the need for a “new rationale,” involving hard law but also soft law “appealing to those companies’ sense of responsibility to be able to act quickly”. (Politico, 26.03.2020)
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Background to Tech Against Terrorism
Tech Against Terrorism is an initiative launched by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN CTED) in April 2017. We support the global technology sector in responding to terrorist use of the internet whilst respecting human rights, and we work to promote public-private partnerships to mitigate this threat. Our research shows that terrorist groups – both jihadist and far-right terrorists – consistently exploit smaller tech platforms when disseminating propaganda. At Tech Against Terrorism, our mission is to support smaller tech companies in tackling this threat whilst respecting human rights and to provide companies with practical tools to facilitate this process. As a public-private partnership, the initiative has been supported by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and the governments of Spain, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, and Canada.