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Reader's Digest - 13 March 2020

Tech Against Terrorism Reader's Digest

13 March 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

– “Telegram’s cryptocurrency could have a terrorism problem”Telegram began 2020 with an announcement that it would be launching its own cryptocurrency, Grams, and the Telegram Open Network (TON) blockchain with the aim of integrating a crypto-wallet to their messaging service. However, Grams and TON remain on hold while Telegram fights an ongoing lawsuit with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which sued Telegram last October for “illegally offering digital asset securities." In this article, Andrew Mines assesses the potential risks associated with integrating cryptocurrencies onto a platform known for being exploited by terrorist and violent extremists actors. (Mines, Just Security, 05.03.2020)

Islamist terrorism 

– “Pilgrimage to the platform: The repeat audience for ‘Muslim News’”Moustafa Ayad takes a deep dive into the audience of the Islamic State-affiliated platform Muslim News, looking at users' origins, length of activity on the platform, and usage peaks. Ayad finds that, though visitors were mostly led to the platform via web searches, many users found the website via social media platforms. Ayad concludes by underlining the risks of search engines being weaponised by terrorist and violent extremist groups. (Ayad, GNET, 09.03.2020)

“Islamic State in Libya: From force to farce?”: Though the Islamic State (IS) lost its Libyan stronghold in 2016, the terrorist group is still present in the country. Analysing the situation on the ground and the current state of IS, this ICSR report assesses the threat posed by the group in Libya. Author Inga Kristina Trauthig argues that IS is presenting itself in a “hyperbolic way,” and is not in fact as strong as some reports on its activity last year appear to say. (Trauthig, ICSR, 10.03.2020)


Far-right violent extremism and terrorism  

– “States pushes to list white supremacist group as terrorist org”In what Politico refers to as an “unprecedented move,” the US State Department is pushing for one white supremacist group – believed by analysts to be Atomwaffen Division – to be designated as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Politico stresses that this would signal that the US views far-right violent extremism and terrorism as a rising transnational threat. This designation would also allow easier prosecution of suspected members for terrorist related offences, and monitoring of Americans training with designated groups overseas. The State Department's announcement follows the decision by the FBI to elevate far-right violent extremism to the same level of threat as Islamist terrorism earlier this year. (Politico, 09.03.2020) 

“What do we know about the extreme right in Germany”In this article, Cristina Ariza examines far-right violent extremism in Germany. Providing a timeline of recent attacks and foiled plots in the country, as well as an analysis of the country’s response to this threat, Ariza calls for a continuous refining of counterterrorism efforts to adapt to new and evolving challenges. (Ariza, CARR, 06.03.2020)

"Hope, cope & rope: incels i digitala miljöer": In this study, the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) analyses the three largest global incel forums to better understand the global incel movement based on their online presence. Examining the forums between October and December 2019, the study found that the largest incel forums had between 8 and 9 million unique visitors, but that the forums on average only had around a 1,000 regularly active users within the timeframe examined. Using discourse analysis, the report found that the forums have a significantly higher “hate level” than the Reddit forums where online manifestations of the incel movement originated, and that the incel movement is reminiscent of “political extremis[m]” in its worldview. The two most common nationalities across the forums were American and British, whereas Sweden had the largest presence on a per capita ratio. (Article in Swedish; Swedish Defence Research Agency, 03.03.2020)


– “De-radicalisation approach needs ‘fundamental review’ - Prison Officers’ Association”The latest attacks in London have stirred debate around the effectiveness of UK’s prison deradicalisation programme, notably the Health Identity Intervention (HII) and the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) – both of which the London Bridge attacker took part in. As none of the schemes have undergone a formal evaluation process, the Prison Officers’ Association is calling for a fundamental review that would address the potential, new dynamics of sleeper cells that go through the existing deradicalisation process.  (BBC News, 10.03.2020)

“Parliament stands ground on terrorist content”Last week Politico leaked a document that appears to detail proposed amendments to the EU’s regulation on terrorist content online, which was put forward by the previous Commission and is now in the final stage of negotiations amongst EU institutions. Politico has found that MEPs do not want to force platforms to use “proactive measures” such as automated content filters,  contrary to the Commission and Council’s stance. Though Parliament appears willing to lift the obligation on EU countries of appointing an independent authority to implement the legislation. It seems that member states could still be able to make cross border removal orders of service providers. Only minor points have been agreed at this stage, Politico writes. (Politico, 06.03.2020)

Tech policy

– “Guide: how to protect human rights in content governance”: AccessNow has published 26 “human rights- and user-centric” recommendations to serve as a baseline for fairer content governance regulations to reinforce the protection of human rights online. AccessNow stresses the importance of context in this matter, underlining that these recommendations should not be seen as a one size fits all solution. (Access Now, 03.02.2020)

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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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