Reader’s Digest – 25 September 2020

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


Top Stories

  • The Finnish Supreme Court has upheld on appeal a decision to ban the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement in the country.
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  • The  Facebook Oversight Board has confirmed that it plans to launch before the US election in November, with a spokesperson  saying it expects to start reviewing cases in October.
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  •  TikTok has released its latest transparency report, covering the first half of 2020. Commendably, the report provides metrics for content removed for terrorism (covered by the company’s dangerous organisations policy).
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  •  Along with the transparency report, TikTok also proposed a new industry coalition seeking to encourage tech companies to collaborate in their efforts of tackling harmful content.
  • Access Now has published its assessment of the PACT Act, a proposal introduced by US Senators Schatz and Thune to reform Section 230 in June of this year.
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  •  The Center for Democracy and Technology’s EU branch has sent a letter – co-signed by 18 other organisations –  to the European Union outlining concerns about the proposed regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist.
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You can find Tech Against Terrorism’s comment on the proposal here.  

Tech policy

  • The Risk Makers: In this piece, Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly take a deep dive into the tech industry’s historical, as they see it, shortcomings in assessing the risk of abuse of their platforms. The authors note that the Internet’s relation to risk is structural, claiming that tech companies on occasion neglect risk assessments in favour of profit. According to the academics, activists, and current as well as former employees at tech firms interviewed for this article, few companies appear to have a formalised process for identifying and assessing risk. In addition, critics say that the tech industry’s existing approach to dealing with risk is outdated and that it should take into account the protection of social values. The authors argue that incorporating insights from subject matter experts from other sectors is one step towards a solution, but that it is equally necessary for employees tasked with assessing risk to have agency and authority within companies. (Buni and Chemaly, OneZero, 21.09.2020)
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  • Are you interested in learning more about how we at Tech Against Terrorism can help your company in assessing risk associated with terrorist use of the internet? Reach out on [email protected]
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  •  What Even is ‘Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior’ on Platforms? In this article, Shannon McGregor argues that the line between “coordinated behaviour” and campaign activity, as defined by tech platforms, is blurred. McGregor points to actions taken by Twitter and Facebook earlier this week to suspend and remove accounts associated with Turning Point Action (TPA), an affiliate of the conservative youth organisation Turning Point USA. Posts from the TPA-associated users were part of a broadly coordinated effort led by the TPA and generally sought to cast doubt on the electoral process and downplay the threat of Covid-19. These posts, some of which violated both platforms’ policies due to misinformation about the voting process, were taken down after journalists contacted the companies. McGregor emphasises that platforms have been drawing an “arbitrary” line around “coordination” that will be “impossible to defend” and enforce consistently. McGregor argues that platforms’ policies around “coordinated” and “inauthentic” behaviour often can be “vaguely written, flexibly interpreted, and inconsistently applied”. According to McGregor, the TPA incident is an example of this and McGregor views that more clarification around coordinated behaviour and electoral misinformation are needed to protect the integrity of democratic processes. (McGregor, WIRED, 17.09.2020)

Counterterrorism 

  • Who is a Terrorist, Actually? Daniel L. Byman dwells on the  issue of defining terrorism and what it implies to label certain organisations and actors as such. Indeed, as civil unrest in the US has led certain actors to call for groups like Antifa, Black Lives Matter (BLM), and Patriot Prayer to be labelled as terrorist organisations, Byman reviews what the most agreed upon criteria for defining terrorism in the counterterrorism community are. These include the use (or threat) of violence, “inherently political” motivations linked to a broader cause or ideology, non-state actor status, and the intention of having “far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target”. Byman applies these criteria to Antifa, BLM, Patriot Prayer, and Kyle Rittenhouse, the man accused of killing two people in Kenosha (US). Byman concludes that, based on the above criteria, none of these actors can be considered terrorists. In doing so, Byman stresses that the terrorist label extends “beyond semantics” that can not only lead to “demonisation” but also allows governments to respond in kind, meaning that – in the context of political protests – labelling organisations as terrorist could have negative consequences. (Byman, Brookings, 22.09.2020).
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Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

  • Cormac O’Keeffe: Far-right Violence Will Become Normalised if Government Does Not Act: In this piece, Cormac O’Keeffe highlights concerns by author Natasha Dromey that extremist violence could become normalised in Ireland unless it is dealt with promptly. This follows last Saturday’s violent scenes outside of the Dáil, the Irish Parliament in Dublin, where a group of the Covid-19 restrictions protestors, displaying Irish tricolours, both verbally and physically violently targeted counter-protestors, resulting in one counter-protestor suffering a severe injury. This violence follows a late August clash near the Customs House. O’Keeffe cites Dromey’s fears that without sufficient responses to the rise of violent incidents, violent clashes could provide an opening for a more extremist movement to grow within the country. (O’Keeffe, Irish Examiner, 19.09.2020)

To read more about the developments of the far-right movement in Ireland, and how the far-right has been exploiting the Covid-19 crisis, please see: The far-right rises: Its growth as a political force in Ireland.

This week, we’re also listening to the Lawfare podcast on White Power Violence with expert guests Elizabeth Neumann and Kathleen Belew.  

Islamist terrorism

  • Diaries of Female Jihadists Imprisoned in Al-Hol Camp: An Analysis: In this piece, Brune Descamps analyses posts, messages and other content shared online by two French female jihadists during the summer of 2020 whilst incarcerated in al-Hol, a detention camp in Northern Syria hosting mainly women and children who previously lived under IS rule in Syria and Iraq. The two women’s posts were collected from various conversations on several encrypted messaging apps. According to Descamps, the  posts offered testimonies of daily life in the camp and helped the women financially by advancing their crowdfunding campaigns. Descamps highlights how these women were able to maintain their ideological involvement and dedication to the “jihadist ideal” while using the virtual space to maintain a presence online despite being detained. (Descamps, GNET, 22.09.2020)

On this subject, we are also listening to this week’s Lawfare podcast on Detention Questions and the Women of the Islamic State

 To read more about the al-Hol detention camp and online fundraising, see: Inside the Sisterhood Springing Jihadis from Jail


For any questions, please get in touch via:
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