Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency Will be Ripe for Misuse

June 26, 2019 CEP Staff
Libra Has Potential for Online Extremist and Terrorist Exploitation

This month, Facebook announced plans to launch its own cryptocurrency, the Libra, by mid-2020. Already, regulators in both Europe and the United States are expressing concern about its public policy implications. Cryptocurrency, already one of the “least-regulated areas of finance,” have been misused by extremist and terrorist groups. Organizations like ISIS, for example, have a long track record of exploiting the anonymity of cryptocurrencies to raise and launder funds critical for their survival.

“Given Facebook’s poor policy-planning track record, it is unlikely that the company will have placed the necessary guard rails to prevent the manipulation and abuse of Libra by terrorist and criminal elements,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “Online extremists have already been known to rely on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for donations that fund their arms purchases and violent activities. They have already found a way to exploit Facebook’s live-streaming and auto-generate features, and Facebook’s new cryptocurrency will undoubtedly be subject to similar misuse.”

CEP Researcher Joshua Fisher-Birch has found multiple instances of extremists using cryptocurrency. Last August, the far-right group Order of Dawn, which endorses racism and anti-Semitism, used the cryptocurrency Monero (XMR) to fund firearms and explosive purchases. At the time, the group claimed they had raised approximately $6,600. As Fisher-Birch stated, “Order of Dawn is particularly direct in their mission and stated intent. The fact that the group is crowdfunding cryptocurrency on their website allows individuals to contribute with little effort or mobilization needed. Internet services companies … should be on guard to make sure that they do not aid or assist terrorists.”

On Thursday June 20, individuals in several pro-ISIS Telegram chats posted links to YouTube videos providing instructions on using PayPal anonymously to send or receive money, and the buying of Bitcoin. The same user also posted Anwar al-Awlaki quotes supporting “financial Jihad” and a link to a PayPal pool account, requesting donations to a fund marked for a “honeymoon,” and requesting that individuals do not use “Islamic Terms (sic)” so that PayPal would not shut down the page. ISIS has also used the encrypted messaging app Telegram to urge its supports to help mine Bitcoin in order to share videos, photos and other files, without fear of deletion.

Facebook has a track record of rushing the launch of new products without fully vetting the potential consequences. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg accelerated the rollout of Facebook Live for worldwide launch in April 2016. The live-streaming tool has been used to broadcast murders and suicide. Facebook Live was also used to broadcast the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. One month after the attacks, the company finally revised its livestream policy.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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