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Reader's Digest – 17 April 2020

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

We interrupt this broadcast for a special announcement, the first episode of season 2 of the The Against Terrorism Podcast is live: In this episode on how nordic neo-Nazis use the internet, Flora Deverell and Jacob Berntsson discuss the Nordic Resistance Movement's (NRM) growing influence, with guest Jonathan Leman, a researcher at Expo Foundation in Stockholm, which monitors far-right activity in the Nordic countries; and Dr. Louie Dean Valencia-García, an assistant professor of digital history at Texas State University. Together, they explore how Nordic neo-Nazis are using online platforms as a “safe haven”, and mainstream trends such as memes to aid radicalisation. They also delve into Arktos Media’s role in putting an academic imprimatur on violent extremist far-right ideas to rebrand and connect with young people globally.

-Terrorism and Counterterrorism

UN counter-terrorism negotiations during COVID: time for a rethink: The seventh review of the United Nation’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) – which structures the UN counter-terrorism policy and practice and those of States around the world – is supposed to take place this year. However, with the coronavirus impacting everyone's work, this review process is likely to be affected. In this article, Street and Rogers argue that it is essential to pause negotiations, to allow for a complete review of the UN GCTS in consideration of human rights and civil society voices within the overall UN GCTS process. A pause in the negotiations, according to Street and Rogers, would not only allow for checks and balances to catch up with the expansion of the UN GCTS, but also would help safeguard human rights and civil society voices at a time where the current health crisis creates significant pressure on societies and governments. (Street and Rogers, Just Security, 08.04.2020)

Terrorism in the era of Covid-19: The recent stabbing attack in France demonstrates that the terrorist threat has not disappeared because of the pandemic. In this article, Clive Williams provides an overview of how different terrorist and violent extremist groups across ideologies have been reacting to the pandemic: from the Islamic State’s call to capitalise on the fear within Western countries and al-Qaeda's praise of the effect of the crisis on the US economy, to the Nordic Resistance Movement’s attempt to gain new supporters. (Williams, The Strategist, 15.04.2020)

Islamist terrorism

Islamic State propaganda in India: Earlier this year, a pro-Islamic State (IS) online group released, for the first time, an online magazine targeting Indian Muslims called the “Voice of Hind.” While IS and al-Qaeda (AQ) have been relatively unsuccessful in spreading their ideology and propaganda in India so far, recent changes in their propaganda approaches underline a renewal of efforts to gain a foothold in the country at a time of increased tensions around the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. Kabir Taneja analyses these shifts in propaganda efforts, and how they fit within IS and AQ Indian-focused narratives and strategies. Taneja concludes by highlighting that India is home to one of the world’s youngest populations and biggest smartphone markets, questioning what this means for counter-extremism given the lack of cooperation between the government and tech companies. (Taneja, GNET, 14.04.2020)

– At Tech Against Terrorism, we believe that public-private collaboration is essential in tackling terrorist use of the internet. As part of our work in strengthening relations between the public and tech sectors in different regions around the world, we organised our first workshop in India in collaboration with the GIFCT last November. This was a great opportunity for governments and the tech sector, along with academia and civil society, to explore how terrorists are exploiting the internet and discuss collaborative solutions to tackle the threat. You can find our blogpost about our Delhi tech workshop here.

Coronavirus and official Islamic State output: an analysis: Aymenn al-Tamimi analyses how IS has been discussing the coronavirus crisis, disentangling the different headlines and stories that have reported on IS chatter around the coronavirus since March. Al-Tamimi underlines that while IS is issuing health guidelines to its followers, this does not mean that the group is calling off attacks in Western countries. In fact, al-Tamimi writes, IS is calling on its supporters to exploit the West’s current weakness to conduct attacks and prison breaks. (Al-Tamimi, GNET, 15.04.2020)

The impact of coronavirus on terrorism in the Sahel: As the coronavirus has become a topic of discussion amongst terrorist groups, Julie Coleman dwells on what the coronavirus means for terrorism in the Sahel, a region that has witnessed an increase in terrorist attacks over the past year. Coleman underlines that the pandemic bears multiple risks with regards to counter-terrorism efforts, especially as countries providing (military) support to the Sahel might shift their focus towards their own domestic needs. With the coronavirus being an extra burden on local governments, Coleman also stresses the risk of terrorist groups taking advantage of this to further integrate themselves into local communities, by providing healthcare and security services where governments can no longer fulfill these needs. (Coleman, ICCT, 16.04.2020)

-Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

White supremacy’s gateway to the American mind: In this article, Ava Kofman, Moira Weigel, and Francis Tseng take a look at Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm, and its exploitation by far-right violent extremists to reach mass audiences. The authors explore KDP’s history and how over time it has become a place where violent extremists banned on other platforms have been able to share their extremist views and propaganda. The article also explores the difficulties of policing content that have come with Amazon’s importance in the books market, including the risk of restricting literary expression – especially given the difficulties in disentangling political opinion and hate speech. In this regard, the authors take the example of French author Louis-Ferdinand Celine, whose literary work has been acclaimed by some, despite his position as a fascist and holocaust denier. (Kofman, Weigel, Tseng, The Atlantic, 07.04.2020)

– Estonian police identify ‘key figure’ in international neo-Nazi hate group. he ‘s 13 years old: Earlier this year, Estonian security services confronted a 13-year-old, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi “Commander” for his online activities – eventually suspending his activities with online neo-Nazi network Feuerkrieg Division (FD), which he claims to have founded. While the decentralised structure of the FD network casts doubts on the boy’s claims to be the leader of the group, according to Estonian media he appears to have been one of the movement’s key figures. The identification of such a young individual's role in FD’s online and transnational neo-Nazi network further sheds light on the phenomenon of youth radicalisation into far-right violent extremism online. (Time, 13.04.2020)

Tech policy

– Put privacy first in tech fight against coronavirus: With governments and the tech sector across the world experimenting with technologies to assist in tracking and preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Julian King – former European Commissioner for Security – is calling for an open discussion about what this means for data protection and individuals’ privacy. King emphasises the need to ensure that exceptions to European data protection rules for public health reasons are proportionate, transparent, and subject to independent review. With the European Commission having already issued guidance to governments regarding possible measures and safeguards, King calls for this process to be sped up and for the wider tech sector to be involved in the discussion regarding data protection at this time. (King, Politico, 14.04.2020)

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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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