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Reader's Digest - 21 February 2020

Tech Against Terrorism Reader's Digest

21 February 2020

Our weekly review of articles on terrorist and violent extremist use of the Internet, counterterrorism, digital rights, and tech policy.

Terrorist and violent extremist use of the Internet

“Top-down and bottom-up gamification of radicalization and extremist violence”Gamification – “the use of game elements in non-gaming contexts,” often through points, leaderboards, and badges – has become more prevalent in discussion about  radicalisation and extremism, amongst both far-right violent extremists and Islamist terrorism. Linda Schlegel details how gamification is deployed as a radicalisation tool by violent extremist organisations, but also as a way for individuals to “gamify[...] their perception of reality” when it comes to violent extremism and radicalisation. (Linda Schlegel, GNET, 17.02.2020)

“I spent two years undercover, adopting five different identities and joining a dozen tech-savvy extremist groups”:  Julia Ebner tells the story of how she went from chasing online extremists to joining their communities in order to gain insight into how they operate. Her deep-dive into extremist communities in the online sphere (including Islamist terrorism, far-right violent extremists, and radical misogynists), underlines striking similarities between communities of different ideologies, and shines light on their human dimensions and vulnerabilities. Ebner provides commentary on the existing response to this online threat – highlighting cross-sector enterprises such as Tech Against Terrorism and calling for a more human-centred approach for long-term positive impact. (Julia Ebner, INews, 18.02.2020)

Islamist terrorism 

– “Hiding in plain site: Islamic State’s ‘Muslim news’”: After Mali became the only African nation to give its domain .ML for free in 2013, it was not long before it also became the most blocked domain in the world after being taken over by Islamist terrorist supporters. In this piece Moustafa Ayad shows how in 2016 IS-affiliated website Muslim News emerged on this domain before being shut down as they started to experiment with bitcoin donations. Now the website is reappearing and exploiting loopholes to generate traffic. (Moustafa Ayad, GNET, 20.02.2020)

"How IS uses hacked accounts to flood Twitter with propaganda"Drawing upon a sample of at least 5,800 Tweets, Marc Owen Jones shows how IS uses hacked accounts to exploit trending hashtags in Arabic for propaganda purposes. (Marc Owen Jones, Middle East Eye, 17.02.2020)

“Les cryptomonnaies, un instrument pour financer le terrorisme en plein développement”The latest report from Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company specialising in tracking cryptocurrency transactions, analyses two case studies of how cryptocurrencies were used for fundraising by Hamas and by an Islamic State linked organisation. Chainalysis underlines how these campaigns have seen an increased level of sophistication over a short period of time. (Article in French; Le Journal de Montréal, 12.02.2020)

Far-right violent extremism and terrorism  

– "Germany shooting: ‘Far-right extremist’ carried out shisha bars attacks”: As the details of yesterday’s attack in Hanau are still unfolding, BBC News provides a summary of what is currently known about the attack. The article also includes a timeline of recent far-right violent extremist attacks in Germany. (BBC News, 20.02.2020)

“The effects of censoring the far-right online”Reflecting on growing public discourse around far-right violent extremist actors online, Ofra Klein reflects on the consequences of countering hateful content, including de-platforming. While “censoring” far-right actors on mainstream platforms can disrupt audience reach, it can also drive them to more fringe platforms in “unmonitored online environments,” as well as force them to develop strategies to evade moderation on mainstream platforms. Klein also analyses how increased “censorship” has reinforced the perception of injustice amongst far-right extremists, feeding their discourse of victimisation. (Ofra Klein, CARR, 17.02.2020)


– “Rebecca Long-Bailey vows to to make it Labour policy to scrap Prevent”: In the run-up to the UK’s Labour Party leadership election, Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey is calling for an end to the existing UK counter-extremism programme Prevent. Criticising Prevent for its lack of both efficiency and dialogue with Muslim communities in the country, Long-Bailey proposes a new government-funded system that would no longer ‘alienate’ Muslim communities. Her criticism of Prevent follows recent inclusion of pro-climate groups into a Prevent policy document that sparked fiery debate earlier this year.(The Guardian, 20.02.2020)

Tech policy

“Europe’s digital vision, explained”: This past week the EU Commission unveiled a new digital strategy, publishing three documents on artificial intelligence, data policy, and platform regulation. In this article, Politico looks at the proposals in detail and outlines potential impact it might have for future regulation within the EU. (Politico. 19.02.2020)

“Internet privacy: the apps that protect you from your apps”: As users become increasingly wary about apps and their data collection processes, a new generation of apps are being developed to answer users’ desire for privacy. Alex Hern develops on these new privacy apps and on what he calls the “faustian pact” involved of these apps – requiring users to provide access to their most precious information in order for them to work. (The Guardian, 16.02.2020)

"How memes are becoming the new frontier of information warfare”: Originally coined by Richard Dawkins in the late 70s to designate a cultural product with the capacity to replicate and spread, Tom Ascott analyses how memes have developed to individual weapons of information warfare. From troll farms to the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats established by the EU and NATO, Ascott provides an overview of the role memes play in information warfare, as well as how they are utilised to normalise extremist behaviours and have become part of the far-right violent extremist recruitment toolkit. (Tom Ascott, The Strategist, 19.02.2020)

“Germany to require social media sites to report hate speech”: Already approved by the German cabinet, the parliament now needs to review a new bill that would require internet companies to report hate speech to the police. Under the NetzDG law in Germany, social media companies are already required to delete hate speech content, the new measures –– which would include an extended definition of hate speech –– would also require companies to flag graphic portrayal of violence and indication that a terrorist attack is in preparation, amongst others, to German law enforcement. (The New York Times, 19.02.2020)

“Charting a way forward: online content regulation”: In this white paper, Facebook's Vice President of Content Policy Monika Bickert outlines the platform’s thinking on content regulation and some of the challenges with implementing such regulation, including preserving freedom of expression and defining “harmful content.” The white paper offers five principles for future regulation: company incentives, consideration of global scale and reach of online content, freedom of expression, understanding of capability (and limitations) of technology, and proportionality. (Facebook, February 2020)

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Background to Tech Against Terrorism

Tech Against Terrorism is an initiative launched by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN CTED) in April 2017. We support the global technology sector in responding to terrorist use of the internet whilst respecting human rights, and we work to promote public-private partnerships to mitigate this threat. Our research shows that terrorist groups - both jihadist and far-right terrorists - consistently exploit smaller tech platforms when disseminating propaganda. At Tech Against Terrorism, our mission is to support smaller tech companies in tackling this threat whilst respecting human rights and to provide companies with practical tools to facilitate this process. As a public-private partnership, the initiative has been supported by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and the governments of Spain, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, and Canada.

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