Welcome to the first View from Brussels blog post, a perspective from the de facto capital of Europe on the state of counterterrorism, extremism, and radicalisation throughout the European Union.
In response to the growing imperative across Europe to counter violent extremism and prevent radicalisation, the European Union (EU) has launched an initiative designed to improve its ability to fight online recruitment and radicalisation by extremist groups.
This new initiative, known as the EU Internet Forum, was launched on December 3 after first being proposed in April 2015 as part of the European Agenda on Security.
In response to the radicalisation of Europeans, the European Commission has stated that immediate action is needed to stop extremists from exploiting the Internet to radicalise and recruit their citizens, facilitate and direct terrorist activity, and then glorify their atrocities. It is clear that more concrete measures are necessary. The establishment of the Forum comes at a time when an estimated 5,000 Europeans have gone to join the fight alongside ISIS and other extremist groups. These groups are increasingly relying on social media to recruit new followers and spread their violent messages.
The Forum brings together EU Member State Interior Ministers, the EU Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator, major Internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Ask.fm, Europol (the European police agency headquartered in The Hague), and the European Parliament. The goal of the EU Internet Forum is to better detect and address harmful material found online utilizing public-private partnerships.
The main objectives of the EU Internet Forum are to:
- Reduce accessibility to terrorist material online by removing content;
- Make better use of the Internet to challenge extremist rhetoric and ideology through the development and dissemination of a counter-narratives; and
- Explore law enforcement agencies’ concerns about new and highly sophisticated encryption technologies that extremists are frequently using to communicate undetected.
The Forum will serve as a platform for collaboration to identify common tools, best practices, and innovative and new solutions to tackle Internet issues involving terrorism and extremism. It will also serve as a hub that links a number of other relevant initiatives, including the EU Internet Referral Unit set up by Europol in June 2015, which is designed to identify terrorist material online and alert the respective Internet companies.
While acknowledging the impossibility of removing all terrorist material from the Internet, the European Commission stressed that more must be done to reduce the immense volume of extremist material that is online and so easily accessible.
Disagreements remain as to the legality of what some consider censorship. Concerns over protecting free speech were also voiced at the inaugural session of the Forum on December 3. “Tackling online hate speech is a delicate exercise that requires us to define clearly where freedom of expression stops and where hate speech starts,” stated Commissioner for Justice, Consumer and Gender Equality Věra Jourová.
However, the bottom line, Jourová concluded, is that “there is growing evidence that online incitement to hatred leads to violence offline. We must step up work to limit and eradicate this phenomenon online.”
By establishing the Forum, the EU is taking a crucial step in working with private companies and law enforcement to combat extremists online. The Forum represents a major step forward in the fight (both online and offline) against extremism and radicalisation in Europe.