Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.

Top stories

  • There is a new Tech Against Terrorism podcast episode! In our most recent episode we look at gender approaches to women’s role in online terrorist spheres with Dr. Joana Cook of Leiden University and the ICCT and Dr. Elizabeth Pearson of Swansea University. Listen here
  • The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) has announced that Bjørn Ihler, co-founder of the Khalif-Ihler Institute, will serve as the first chair of the GIFCT’s recently announced Independent Advisory Committee. Tech Against Terrorism welcomes this appointment and look forward to working with the Committee.

  • The UK Home Office has proscribed far-right organisation Feuerkrieg Division, an announcement we welcomed.

  • Hoop Messenger confirms commitment to removing Islamic State channels in a tweet. We tweeted about this here and here

  • Twitter, YouTube remove accounts linked to Generation Identity – including leader Martin Sellner – a pan-European movement known for promoting “Great Replacement Theory.” More details here and here

Terrorist use of the internet

  • IS “Advisers”: How Online Jihadists Guided European Volunteers to Syria: Dr. Hugo Micheron evaluates the networks of Islamic State (IS) online recruitment of European fighters. Micheron shows how IS employed hundreds of online contact persons who served as “virtual air traffic controllers” for potential recruits from Europe. Based on analysis of online communications between these “controllers” and prospective recruits, Micheron concludes that most recruits were part of an established support base for IS in Western Europe rather than “victims of online propaganda.” (Micheron, GNET, 10 July 2020) 

  • Understanding the Online and Offline Dynamics of Terrorist Pathways: Joe Whittaker and Chamin Herath evaluate on-going case study research examining how 231 Islamic State terrorists in America use the Internet within the wider context of online and offline behaviors. Whittaker and Cherath question the oft-posited online-only theory of radicalisation, which in their view is driven by selection bias in investigation material on part of both researchers and the legal system. Instead, they argue that online behaviours correlate with similar offline behaviours, and that the relationship between online behaviour and radicalisation is more complex than generally assumed. The authors conclude that whilst the internet is vital for terrorists, offline interactions should still be seen as an important part of contemporary trajectories. (Whittaker, Cherath, GNET, 13 July 2020) 


  • Extreme and Non-Violent? Exploring the Threat Posed by Non-Violent Extremists: Dr. Elisa Orofino analyses how non-violent extremist groups can act as a “conveyor belt to terrorism”. Orofino looks at the example of Syrian-British preacher Omar Bakri, a member of the non-violent Islamist extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who in 1996 left the group to set up terrorist organisation al-Mouhajiroun, and the Christchurch shooter who espoused ideology similar to that of the non-violent group Generation Identity, to which he donated 2,200 euros. Orofino sees non-violent extremist groups as social movements in “a continuous ideological conflict with the government or specific groups in society”, and dwells on how they offer members crucial frames that impact their identity, especially in creating a deep sense of belonging to a group and their views of society. As such, Orofino assesses that, despite disavowing violence, non-violent extremist groups can still lead individuals to commit violent acts, including terrorism. (Dr Orefino, EER, 14.07.2020) 

Tech policy 

  • The Digital Services Act and Online Content Regulation: A Slippery Slope for Human Rights?: In this blogpost, Global Partners Digital’s Richard Wingfield looks at the potential implications of the EU Digital Services Act on human rights and online speech. Wingfield notes that there is disagreement amongst EU stakeholders about what type of content should be in scope for the Act. Reports published by three committees of the European Parliament reflect this, with some proposing that the Act should take a narrow approach targeting only “illegal” content, and others expanding the suggested scope to “harmful.” Wingfield suggests looking to recommendations made in a forthcoming Global Network Initiative publication. This policy brief suggests that the EU should ensure that all content types prohibited by a prospective Act need to fall under the “legitimate purposes” category of Article 19 of the ICCPR, which allows for some restrictions of speech for public safety concerns. The brief will also recommend that policy-makers do not prohibit speech that would be considered legal offline in the online sphere, pointing out that several governments have in the past proposed banning online speech deemed “harmful” despite being legally protected. (Wingfield, GNI Blog / Medium, 15 July 2020)

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