The New Netwar – jihadists winning online propaganda battle, report says


The war against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is slowly moving from the battlefield to cyberspace, and a new study shows that United States is at the forefront of that struggle, Newsweek reports. The report – The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Onlinesays that “there is a danger that the blood and treasure we are investing in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria will produce little more than a pyrrhic victory unless we act to defeat the virtual threat.”

Online jihadist propaganda attracts more clicks in the UK than any other country in Europe, the BBC reports:

Britain is the fifth-biggest audience in the world for extremist content after Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Policy Exchange’s study said. The think tank suggested the UK public would support new laws criminalising reading content that glorifies terror. The government has told internet companies like Facebook and Google to do more to to remove jihadist material.

Former US military chief General David Petraeus, who wrote a foreword to the report, said that like al-Qaeda, Isis will continue to operate either as an insurgency, terrorist movement or ideological project that continues seeking to radicalize followers and inspire terror attacks.

“It is clear that that our counter-extremism efforts and other initiatives to combat extremism on line have, until now, been inadequate,” he added.

“I do not think we have yet developed all the ‘big ideas’ needed to come to grips with the problem, much less the policies and methods to combat it.”

The response to the attack at Parsons Green signals that ISIS has lowered the bar for what constitutes an operation worth claiming, and this is not good news, according to Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, and Haroro J. Ingram, a research associate with the International Centre for Counterterrorism. It means that government spokespeople and media outlets alike must be more careful than ever not to fall into the propaganda traps being set for them, they write for The Atlantic:

They must deny ISIS its ability to brand itself, and they must always remain two steps ahead, anticipating its propagandists’ next move. The full potency of ISIS’s propaganda of the deed strategy relies on the misguided responses of its adversaries. That its actions will provoke them is an essential component of its calculations, and an all-too-cyclical dynamic that we must deny it.

“ISIS have adapted to shifts in technology and now use Telegram as their core communication platform for talking to sympathisers – even as platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook remain vital for missionary activity,” the analysts warn.

Co-author Dr Martyn Frampton of London’s Queen Mary University said IS is still pumping out about 100 pieces of online propaganda a week [while] western Governments have focused on a “fruitless” policy of removing individual bits of jihadi content from the web.

He added: “We need to go beyond this to disrupt the jihadists’ dissemination networks. We can only do this if the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook are willing to do their bit to defend the free society that created them.”

In June, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube announced a global internet forum to tackle terrorism. They said the collaboration would focus on technological solutions including AI machine learning techniques, research and partnerships with governments and civic groups, The Guardian adds.

“Violent extremism is a complex problem and addressing it is a critical challenge for us all. We are committed to being part of the solution and we are doing more every day to tackle these issues,” Google spokeswoman said.

“We are making significant progress through machine learning technology, partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies through the Global Internet Forum – and we know there is more to be done.”

The wider underlying problem is that after every major terror attack in Britain – and there has been a “shift change” in their momentum this year – the political response has focused almost solely on the failure of the web companies to tackle online extremism, one observer suggests:

It is now more than two years since [British PM Theresa] May promised a “full spectrum” response to the terror attacks and a complete overhaul of Britain’s counter-extremism strategy. Yet so far very little has emerged. The tarnished reputation of the Prevent programme, which is designed to tackle radicalisation, is in urgent need of reform.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email