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

Top Stories

  • We have released our first blog posts from the Online Regulation Series. This week focused on the Asia-Pacific region and features SingaporePakistan, the Philippines, and Australia. Later today we will publish our blog post on India. Stay tuned for more blog posts from this series in the upcoming weeks.

  • Earlier this week, we published a summary of our response to the Ofcom consultation process on the regulation of video-sharing platforms. In our response, we highlighted the importance of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. Our full response can be found here.

  • This week, we hosted our first two TCAP office hours sessions. The second round of the TCAP office hours will be held in the first week of November, and registration will open closer to the date. Keep an eye on our Twitter and TCAP website for further information.

  • Our e-learning webinar series for 2020/2021 is starting on 21 October, with a webinar on Tech Against Terrorism’s Mentorship Programme and Support to Smaller Platforms. You can register here.

  • A Greek court has found the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn guilty of operating as a criminal organisation.

  • To read more about Golden Dawn’s involvement in far-right extremist violence: “Greece: More far-right violence than any other country in Western Europe” (Anders Ravik Jupskas and Maik Fielitz, C-REX – Center for Research on Extremism, 07.09.2020).

  • The US Department of Homeland Security has released its Homeland Threat Assessment 2020 report, underlining the threat posed by white supremacists to the US.

  • Facebook has announced that it is banning all QAnon accounts from its platforms, removing Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts linked to QAnon.

  • Twitch has updated its community guidelines, further extending its ban of terrorist content by including content shared to denounce terrorism and extremism content.

  • Ahead of a meeting of shadow rapporteurs on the EU Terrorist Content Regulation, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now have provided their recommendations to ensure the regulation remains in line with human rights standards.

Tech policy

  • Online Subcultures and the Challenges of Moderation: Florence Keen assesses what can be achieved by engaging with, and attempting to moderate, chan culture. Keen compares moderating chan forums to moderating mainstream social media, highlighting how unlike the latter – which tangibly moderates extremist and terrorist content – the chan sphere tends to not participate in preventing exploitation of their platforms. Keen argues that one potential response to curtailing fringe chans that host dangerous content is to encourage companies, such as domain registrars and web infrastructure providers, to terminate their relationships with them. However, she recognises that the removal of one chan from the Clearnet is likely to be followed by the emergence of a similar site, while also maintaining the option of moving to the Darknet. Keen emphasises that chans are predicated on attracting more niche and self-referential communities and to foster a sense of belonging and ‘in-group’ status. She stresses that greater institutional digital literacy should be prioritised by governments so that the nuances of chan culture are better understood by practitioners. (Keen, GNET, 01.10.20)

  • New Policy Briefing Calls For More Research into Long-Term Effects of Online Hate: In a new policy briefingAn Agenda for Research Into Hate Online, researchers at The Alan Turing Institute’s Public Policy Programme consider how academic expertise could be used to better inform how online hate is tackled, for example how to minimise its effects, build actionable solutions, and provide support to victims. Through interviews with a range of stakeholders, literature surveys, and new empirical research, the policy brief highlights a six-point research agenda to help achieve the goal of policy-oriented and problem-driven academic research into online hate. The six points of the agenda include, amongst others, that definitions related to online hate research should be clearly articulated. The authors provide three recommendations to facilitate research needed to address the growing problem of hate speech, revolving around: research collaboration, incentivisation from policy makers and funders, and engagement with social media platforms. (Dr. Vidgen, Harris, Cowls, Guest, and Margetts, The Alan Turing Institute, 05.10.20)

  • Europe’s Top Court Confirms No Mass Surveillance Without LimitsNatasha Lomas sheds light on the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)’s recent ruling that national security concerns do not exclude EU Member States’ obligation to comply with general principles of EU law such as, proportionality and respect for fundamental rights to privacy, data protection and freedom of expression. Lomas notes that the court has also allowed for derogations, stating that a pressing security threat can justify limited and temporary bulk data collection and retention. However, these derogations ought to be capped to “what is strictly necessary”, accompanied by “effective safeguards”, and reviewed by a court or independent authority. Lomas stresses that due to a lack of clarity in the definition of how much data collection is “strictly necessary” in a national security context, or about what constitutes an “effective safeguard”, it is likely that the CJEU will continued to be asked to clarify where the legal limits of mass surveillance lie. Lomas also highlights that this CJEU judgement suggests that in EU states with indiscriminate mass surveillance regimes, there could be grounds for overturning individual criminal convictions which are based on evidence obtained via such illegal surveillance. (Lomas, Tech Crunch, 06.10.20)

Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

  • A Comparison of Australian and Canadian Right-Wing Extremist Facebook Group Pages: Jade Hutchinson examines the differences and similarities between Australian and Canadian far-right extremist Facebook group pages. This insight was executed through analysing 59 Australian and Canadian far-right extremist Facebook group pages, drawing from a dataset of publicly available posts from 2011 to 2019. Hutchinson discovered a number of patterns that emerged in online activity, mostly related to types of user engagement and kinds of thematic content. For example, users of Australian groups favoured passive forms of online engagement at a substantially higher rate than the Canadian groups. Hutchinson concludes that although there are some common identities, themes, and topics that Australian and Canadian groups share, there remains a diversity of opinion and behaviour between the two movements. Hutchinson notes that these similarities and differences can inform countering violent extremist efforts to understand the ways in which such sympathetic users interact on popular social media platforms, and how to consider the problem of far-right extremist ideological narratives in Australia and Canada. (Hutchinson, GNET, 07.10.20)

  • IntelBrief: The Proud Boys Viral Moment – Will it Devolve Into a Virulent Threat?The Soufan Center analyses the Proud Boys’ virality and threat, which, according to this brief, gained “instant notoriety last week during the Presidential debate”, as they distributed memes on social media and announced “their readiness to engage in a civil war”. The group’s members have engaged in political violence, vandalism, and vigilantism across various US cities, and the group has grown into a global phenomenon with chapters in more than forty countries. The brief notes that it is unclear whether the Proud Boys would carry out acts of terrorism, but highlights that senior leaders within the group, who have tried to retain a more measured approach, may find difficulty in trying to tamp down the members who retain an interest in civil war. (The Soufan Center, 06.10.20)

  • This week, we’re listening to the newest episode of the Right Rising podcast series from the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right: Populism in Italy: A Deep Dive. In this episode, Dr. Valerio Alfonso Bruno and Alessio Scopelliti join Dr. James F. Downes to discuss what populism means in Italian politics.

Islamist terrorism

  • The Death and Life of Terrorist Networks: Christopher Blair, Eria Chenoweth, Michael C. Horowitz, Evan Perkoski, and Philip B. K. Potter, analyse alliances between globally armed militant groups since 1950, revealing several patterns about the alliances between groups’ developments, maintenance, and strategic use. The authors highlight how a shared ideology and, particularly, a shared religion, play a critical role in maintaining alliances under pressure, which can help a terrorist network survive. They focus particularly on the Islamic State (IS), exploring its success in maintaining alliances through its shared ideology and instrumentalisation of religion to bolster its networks and global reach. Alliances have helped IS expand and gain influence and have relieved pressure by deflecting attention toward affiliates. They emphasise that without defeating this network it will be difficult to fully eliminate the core group. The authors conclude that the lesson of the durability of IS and other successful militant groups over the last 70 years is that States should not underestimate the power of a shared ideology. They stress that containing militant networks means investing considerable resources into discrediting and diminishing the appeal of the underlying ideology. (Blair, Chenoweth, Horowitz, Perkoski, and Potter, Foreign Affairs, 05.10.20)

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