Clear need for tech companies to act to prevent extremists’ weaponization of online platforms
(New York, NY) -- The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) today applauded the Obama Administration for reaching out to America’s leading technology companies for support in combatting the rampant weaponization of social media platforms by violent extremist groups.
“The Administration’s overture to Twitter, Apple, YouTube, Facebook, and others is a recognition of the unprecedented penetration and power of social media and its pivotal role in enabling ISIS and other groups to radicalize, recruit, and plan attacks,” said CEP CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace. “It is imperative that leaders all around the world reassess their military and economic tools, as well as social media strategies, for combatting this global threat.”
Wallace said that it was past time for tech firms to take responsibility for developing solutions that can prevent the co-opting of their platforms by groups who openly call for the killing of Americans.
“The evidence of the power of the Internet to recruit and radicalize is unfortunately all too clear,” Wallace said. “About 34,000 people, an estimated 250 from the U.S. alone, have joined or tried to join ISIS, lured by 40,000 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts sending at least 90,000 messages a day, along with hundreds of videos glorifying murder, rape, and brutality.”
Specifically, encrypted messaging technology enabled the planners of the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded more than 350 to evade detection, while the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook spent hours each day watching videos of radical American cleric and anti-American propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki still readily available on platforms such as YouTube.
"CEP has profiled 90 American foreign fighters and extremist supporters whose one shared characteristic appears to be social media exposure, including at least 20 who were directed or inspired by al-Awlaki," Wallace said.
Since its launch in 2014, CEP has repeatedly warned about the dangers posed by extremists on social media and the need for tech companies to take proactive measures to limit their impact. More than 15 months ago, CEP launched #CEPDigitalDisruption — an ongoing campaign and research effort that has exposed and begun to quantify ISIS’s weaponization of social media, particularly Twitter, where vulnerable individuals are first exposed to propaganda and radical content. A team of CEP researchers meticulously identifies and tracks extremists and their supporters tweeting in English, Arabic, Turkish, French, German, and Italian.
While some tech companies have done more than others to try and prevent terrorists from freely propagandizing and promoting their agenda, Wallace said that the industry as a whole must step up to the challenge.
“Some progress has been made in addressing the threat,” Wallace said. “For example, no one from Twitter would today say dismissively, that 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,' a quote that was given to Mother Jones magazine in 2014. We should not shy away from a sober discussion about ways to balance the rights of free speech and privacy with the need to protect our families and our country. It is a discussion we must have, if we are going to have any chance of preventing the next slaughter of innocent people.”