UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Lawmakers in the U.S. and elsewhere should not to try to censor Islamic extremists’ use of the Internet, says a new report from a global think tank.
“There is no censorship option,” Greg Austin, vice president of the EastWest Institute, told United Press International. “Trying to suppress anything (on the Internet) except direct operational use by terrorists is a mistake.”
Mr. Austin said a careful distinction had to be drawn between extremist sites “advocating violent ideologies or asserting the right to use violence in general” and terrorist sites that “call for or support specific terrorist attacks.”
The report urges that, rather than try to close extremists’ sites, the private sector and religious and community groups should step up, countering with messages that promote peaceful dialogue and emphasize the human cost of extremist violence.
The EastWest Institute, a nonpartisan global research institute based in New York, Moscow and Brussels, published the report “Countering Violent Extremism: Video-power and Cyber-space,” to coincide with its fifth annual security conference in Brussels this week.
“We will lose the battle for cyberspace with terrorists and violent extremists if owners of large TV, film and Internet companies do not step up soon,” said Mr. Austin, adding that media industry leaders had to “choose sides” to prevent terrorist recruitment of “radicalized youth around the world through (their) sophisticated and aggressive use of the Internet.”
But pressuring Internet providers to close down extremist Web sites is not the answer, he said. The report argues that efforts to close them down are doomed to fail and will end up merely “providing violent extremists with additional ammunition through the form of attempted censorship.”
Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli intelligence official who founded the non-profit Middle East Media Research Institute to monitor extremist media, said he supported the report’s recommendations.
“Terrorist use of the Internet should be suppressed,” he said, calling on Internet providers to “respect their own rules and policy (against hate speech and incitement to violence) and respect the laws of the United States,” which ban the provision of any service to designated terrorist organizations.
Other scholars say that trying to take extremist sites like Web chat rooms off-line is a game of Whack-a-Mole, although doing so does generate “chatter” among members that can be combed for intelligence about them.
“Responses need to be compartmentalized,” argues the report. “While particular acts of terrorism and social movements of violent extremism are far from mutually exclusive phenomena, responses to them should be clearly distinguished.”
“It’s a fine line to draw,” Mr. Austin said. “In any particular case it could be ambiguous,” he added, noting that “We know terrorists have used public sites to send coded messages.”
Intelligence experts say many extremist sites are closely watched by intelligence and law enforcement agencies and can yield valuable information about potential or actual supporters of terror groups.