A new transatlantic campaign has pledged to challenge extremist groups like ISIS which misuse the internet to spread their radicalising and extremist ideology and recruit vulnerable Europeans to fight in overseas conflict zones including Iraq and Syria. The “Counter Extremism Project Europe” (CEP Europe) is a partnership between organisations in the U.S. and Europe and among other projects including the launch of an innovative counter narrative seeks to combat the use of social media to radicalise young Muslims.
At the launch, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube were urged to intensify their efforts to curb the extremist “narrative” which inspire deadly terrorist attacks such as those seen in recent days in Tunisia, France and Kuwait.
Twitter was singled out as one social media platform that, according to former senior U.S. diplomat Mark Wallace could do “much, much more” to stop extremist misuse of their sites.
With ISIS alone posting between 90,000 to 100,000 tweets per day, he believes governments are “falling behind” in the cyber war with terrorist groups who are successful using modern technology to recruit and radicalise “vulnerable “ Muslims.
Wallace, a former U.S ambassador to the United Nations, said that failure by social media companies to “self-police” sites should be considered as “material support” to those who those who use the Net to disseminate extremist material.
Social media organisations that “turn a blind eye” to the problem and “put profit before responsibility” should be liable to prosecution, said Wallace, the CEO of the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a U.S.-based advocacy group, which along with Brussels-based policy institute, the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), will partner together on this project.
Wallace said, “Social media platforms are the ´gateway drug´ for cyber Jihadism. Some companies have put in place procedures to curb the misuse of the internet but others are still resisting and could do much, much more.”
The campaign, also launched in Berlin, aims to counter “extremist recruitment messaging and disrupt extremist digital media strategies.”
CEP says it has already had some success in disrupting the financial underpinnings of extremist groups since its launch last September. For example, the government of The Gambia, following a CEP investigation, ordered Hezbollah funder Husayn Tajideen to cease all of his business activities there and leave the country.
The organisation has also recently persuaded Western Union and DHL to sever reported links to terror-financing entities and prevent these entities from misusing reputable businesses.
The New York-based CEP says that recent measures to crack down on English-language incitement on social media are “not sufficient” and will now target extremist misuse of Twitter and other platforms by German, Turkish, French and Italian speakers.
The project will also promote an “innovative counter narrative programme” that seeks to engage social workers, teachers and community leaders in selected European countries, including Germany and France, who are “faced daily with the realities of potential radicalisation and recruitment of vulnerable young people.”
According to Europol, the EU police agency, in January this year as many as 5,000 Europeans are fighting in the region and their number continues to grow.
Speaking at the launch, former U.S Senator and presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, a CEP advisory board member, said the threat of radicalisation and recruitment of vulnerable Europeans to fight in overseas conflicts, including in Iraq and Syria, and the risk of returning foreign fighters launching attacks at home is of “enormous concern” to governments and citizens.
Lieberman told a news conference in Brussels that the world was “awash in blood spilled in brutal acts of violence committed in the name of extremism.It is a war of ideas which cannot be tackled by governments alone.”
His comments are echoed by Dr August Hanning, former head of the German intelligence service who heads CEP operations in Berlin and who said the initiative aims to stem the “drain” of young Muslims attracted to the “warped ideology” offered by terrorist groups such as ISIL
Roberta Bonazzi , EDF executive director, says the double-pronged campaign is in part “recognition that governments alone cannot respond to the growing threat posed by extremist propaganda and radicalisation strategies.”
In what she hails an “unprecedented” effort to combat extremism, Bonazzi said, “Private groups have a significant role to play in addressing the most critical global security challenge of our time.”
In 2010, EFD launched a network of European Muslim activists who are working at the local level to counter extremism within Islamic communities.
By Martin Banks