Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy
Tech Against Terrorism Updates
We want to hear from you! Tech Against Terrorism has launched two consultations to gain insights on tech companies’ experiences with countering terrorist use of the internet, and feedback on our work in supporting the tech sector. It’s short and fully anonymous, please respond here.
In an article for Axios, our Director, Adam Hadley, discussed far-right terrorist use of online platforms, and the importance of a holistic response that addresses root causes in addition to online countermeasures.
Tech Against Terrorism joined the EU Internet Forum Ministerial Meeting held on Monday. Adam Hadley, our Director, presented on our work supporting smaller tech companies and the Terrorist Content Analytics Platforms, and called for improved government designation of far-right terrorist groups, as well as increased research into terrorist use of decentralised platforms and terrorist operated websites.
Tech Against Terrorism is delighted to announce the new Twitter account of the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform (TCAP). It will provide more information on the platform, as well as release its monthly statistics on the TCAP alerts. You can follow us at @TCAPAlerts.
The Facebook Oversight Board has delivered its first decisions, overturning Facebook’s content moderation decisions in 4/5 of the cases, and issuing 9 policy recommendations. Facebook now has 7 days to restore the content, and 30 days to make its response to the recommendations public.
Here are some initial reactions to the Oversight Board’s decisions: Nate Persily’s (co-director at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center) tweet; David Kay’s (former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and GNI Chair) tweet; as well as Evelyn Douek’s (Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society) article.
Marc Zuckerberg has announced that Facebook would no longer recommend political and civic groups to users. This is a global expansion of a decision to temporarily halt recommendations for political groups in the US announced last October.
A Frankfurt Court has given a life sentence to a German neo-Nazi for the killing of a pro-immigration politician in 2019. An assassination that is believed to have been the first motivated by a far-right extremist violent ideology in the country since World War 2.
France’s Interior Minister has called for the dissolving (banning) of Generation Identity, stating that the far-right extremist group was “working to undermine the Republic”.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has called for coordinated global action and an alliance to be created, to counter the spread of neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideas across the world.
Reuters has revealed that Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys’ leader, used to be an informant for local and federal law enforcement following an arrest in 2012.
The US Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning on the threat posed by violent domestic extremists emboldened by the storming of the US Capitol. The warning was made in its “first-ever national terrorism bulletin about violent domestic extremists”.
Canada’s Parliament has passed a motion calling for the Prime Minister to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist organisation. The Proud Boys were founded by a Canadian, and members have been involved in the US Capitol Storming on January 6.
Canada is one of the few countries to have designated far-right motivated groups as terrorist organisations, with the designation of Blood & Honour and its armed branch Combat 18.
Tech Against Terrorism has long argued about the importance of further clarity around the status of far-right and other violent extremist groups by officially designating them as terrorist organisations. We believe that designating terrorist groups in a responsible and accurate manner – whilst respecting human rights and freedom of expression – is an important tool that helps tech companies take appropriate action.
Rushing to Judgment: Examining Government Mandated Content Moderation: Jacob Mchangam (executive director of Justitia and the Future of Free Speech) presents some of the key findings of a recent report on the time limits imposed on social media platforms to remove harmful content, including terrorist content, by certain regulations across the world. The report compares these limits with the length of legal proceedings in place to handle hate speech cases in the same countries. This comparison shows that the legal authorities in charge with handling hate speech “took significantly longer than the time mandated for social media platforms to answer the question of the content’s lawfulness.” Mchangama acknowledges that a platform’s private content moderation is significantly different than legal proceedings involving criminal sanctions. However, he stresses that by having to comply with removal requirements or face liability, platforms “become de facto enforcers of national criminal law but without being bound by human rights standards that would normally protect users’ freedom of expression.” He concludes by highlighting the risks short removal deadlines pose on freedom of expression and due process, noting the French Constitutional Council decision on the “Avia Law”, that assessed these removals to be incompatible with the protection of freedom of expression. (Mchangama, Lawfare, 26.01.2021)
The problems associated with short removal deadlines, have also been underlined in Tech Against Terrorism’s Online Regulation Series. You can read about it in our blog posts on Germany, France, and the EU.
Far-right violent extremism and terrorism
Why the pro-Trump QAnon movement is finding followers in Japan: Julian Ryall provides an overview of QAnon in Japan, where the US originated movement has found an audience amongst a “small but committed” chapter. The group shares some of the conspiracy beliefs common to the QAnon movement in the US, including that former President Trump had won the 2020 elections, and a general scepticism regarding global warming and the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond those, the Japanese QAnon movement also advances certain conspiracy theories unique to Japan. These include the beliefs that the imperial family is a “fake” that had been replaced during the mid-1800s, and that the 2011 tsunami in the northeast of the country was an “artificial tsunami terrorism” backed by then Emperor Akihito. (Ryall, DW, 25.01.2021)
Turner Diaries: Defining a Movement: Brad Galloway, a former far-right violent extremist who now works at the Centre on Hate, Bias & Extremism at Ontario Tech University, provides insights into what the Turner Diaries represents for the far-right violent extremist scene. The Turner Diaries, a fictional novel by white supremacist William Pearce, was published in the form of a collection of journal entries of its main protagonist in 1978. The book, propagating racism and anti-Semitism, and encouraging violence through guerrilla war and ethnic cleansing for “the restoration of an idealised White America”, has become a key ideological tenet of far-right violent extremism in the US and beyond. Galloway explains his first encounter with the book, and how it helps build the image of a shared future, in line with their worldviews, amongst violent extremists. He then explains how he came to realise that some violent extremists treated it as a “blueprint for their acts of terror”. Galloway concludes by analysing the role of the internet in the far-right violent extremist scene, as early as the 1990s, and the recent removal of the book from large online booksellers. However, he cautions that the persistence and resonance of ideas of the Turner Diaries, demonstrates that “[online] moderation alone is not enough to prevent violence”. (Galloway, GNET, 26.01.2021)
We are also listening to:Two Minutes Past Nine – The Insurrection. Leah Sottile’s podcast, on BBC Sound, exploring the violent far-right scene in the US from the Oklahoma bombing to the future of these groups in the country.
The Islamic State in Mozambique: Tore Hamming offers an in-depth overview of the Islamic State in Mozambique, from its emergence as an Islamic sect in 2007 to the increase in violence of its attacks in recent years. Hamming begins by reviewing the emergence of Ahlu Sunnah wa-l-Jama’ah (ASWJ) in the early 2010s, explaining that the group’s violence grew in 2017 following the arrest of 30 members by the authorities. These arrests led to retaliation from the group and further crackdown from the states, which in turn have furthered radicalisation. The group continued to grow in violence and attacks since then, capturing the port city of Mocimboa da Praia in the Cabo Delgado Province in 2020, which followed its pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), announced in May 2018, with a message and photo shared on Telegram, thus becoming the Islamic State in Mozambique (ISM). Hamming explains that the group’s allegiance to IS might have led to a fragmentation of the group, though the extent of which is unknown. Demonstrating this new relation, IS first claimed an attack in Mozambique in June 2019. Hamming analyses the challenges for Mozambique in countering ISM, whose army “simply is not up to the task of battling the militants on its own.” He continues on explaining that Mozambique has relied on local militias and foreign security contractors to battle ISM, and that foreign countries might provide more military support to counter ISM – including the US and UK currently in talks with Mozambique, and other regional partners. (Hamming, Lawfare, 24.01.2021)