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Reader's Digest – 22 January 2020

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

Tech Against Terrorism Updates

  • Tech Against Terrorism was quoted in the Observer this week, analysing the efforts of far-right extremists to radicalise and recruit Trump supporters who have been pushed off Parler after its deplatforming last week.

  • We want to hear from you! Tech Against Terrorism has launched two consultations to gain insights on tech companies' experiences with countering terrorist use of the internet, and feedback on our work in supporting the tech sector. It’s short and fully anonymous, please respond here.

TCAP Office Hours: registration now open!

Following the success of the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform (TCAP) office hours in 2020, you can sign up for our January sessions, to be held on the 27 and 28 January. In these office hours, we will elaborate on our successful launch of automated terrorist content alerts to tech platforms.

You can register for the session on 27 January, at 5:00pm GMT, here, and for the session on 28 January, at 12:00pm GMT, here.

Top stories

  • Facebook has referred its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump’s accounts to its Oversight Board.Evelyn Douek has a helpful explanation on what happens next now that this decision has been put in front of the Oversight Board.

  • Facebook has provided an update on how they enforce their Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policy, particularly with regard to militarised social movements, and violence-inducing conspiracy networks, such as QAnon.

  • Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia, following a proposed law in which Australia stipulates big tech companies' need to share royalties with news publishers.

  • Parler has resurfaced online with the help of the domain registrar, Epik. Epik also hosts alt-tech platforms like Gab as well as 8kun. This came after a court in Washington rejected Parler’s lawsuit to reinstate their platform using Amazon Web Services.

  • Dating apps and videoconference software could be monitored under the new Digital Services Act in an attempt to counter child sexual abuse material, Euroactiv reports.

  • Chainanalysis has traced back a series of bitcoin donations adding to over 500,000 dollars made by a Frenchman to individuals involved in the storming of the Capitol, this article reports.  The donations were made one month prior to the attack, in December 2020.

  • 135 civil society organisations have written a letter to members of Congress, expressing their opposition to a new domestic terrorism charge. Signatories argue that, rather than introducing new legislation, existing legal statutes are sufficient.

Tech policy

  • Why deplatforming the extreme right is a lot more challenging than deplatforming IS: This article, by Dr. Maura Conway, compares deplatforming the Islamic State (IS) to deplatforming far-right violent extremists, arguing that the norms, context, and character of the groups are vastly different. Conway compares the structure of the far-right violent extremism to a scene, or an ideology, whilst IS has more of a group structure. She argues that the organisational structure of IS, and similar groups, ties into governments designating them as terrorist organisations, which paves the way for social media companies to moderate their platforms. In contrast, far-right violent extremists are more challenging for tech companies to deplatform given the lack of designation. In addition, IS does not receive the same support from heads of state, political parties and news outlets as the extreme far-right does which results into deplatforming the far-right often being coined censorship. Conway, therefore, emphasises that the extreme far-right is more likely to establish and maintain their presence on social media platforms. Finally, the designation of IS also means they have limited access to funding, whilst far-right extremists and terorrists, especially through their media products, will continue to provide an income for internet companies and influencers supporting them. She concludes that whilst lessons can be learned from deplatforming IS, far-right extremists and terrorists pose a greater challenge when it comes to deplatforming. (Conway, GNET, 15.01.21).

When talking about the importance of democratic designation as a legal grounding for tech companies to moderate their platforms, Conway links to the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform’s (TCAP) group inclusion policy. To read more about what the TCAP does and how it is grounded in the rule of law, please see our website.

Tech Against Terrorism continuously encourages governments to designate far-right extremists and terrorists, to provide legal ground for social media platforms to moderate their platforms. To read more on this, please see this article by Tech Against Terrorism’s director, Adam Hadley.

Far-right violent extremism and terrorism

  • IntelBrief: the enduring implications of the Capitol insurrection: This intel brief by the Soufan Centre highlights the enduring consequences of the attack on the Capitol on 6 January, and warns that white supremacist groups, anti-government militias, and anti-authority extremists pose the greatest domestic terrorist threat to the United States. The brief describes the Capitol attackers as a collection of random actors and mobs, but also included formal organisations such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and the Three Percenters. These formal groups largely adhere to ideas of white supremacy. The brief also underlines that the attack on the Capitol created an injection into accelerationism, which is the belief that extreme violence will accelerate the collapse of modern-day society, similar to al-Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s (IS) adoption of the “Management of Savagery”. Finally, the brief warns that these actors and militias pose a very serious concern for the future of domestic terrorism, with federal law enforcement warning for more attacks on state buildings and lawmakers in the following weeks. (The Soufan Center, 19.01.21).

  • On this topic, we are listening to the latest episode of the Far-right Rising podcast, discussing the importance of studying the mass mobilisation and demonstrations of the extreme far-right next to their online social media presence.

  • I'm about to puke: QAnon in chaos as Biden takes office:  Will Sommer discusses the disappointment and confusion of QAnon adherents following President Biden’s inauguration, but warns the movement is likely to remain. On inauguration day, QAnon followers were hoping for mass arrests of “deep-state” democrats, coined “the storm,” as well as the revival of Trump’s presidency. When this failed to occur, QAnon adherents faced an existential crisis and entered a state of disarray. Sommer describes how QAnon members tried to rationalise an explanation, such as how President Biden was in on Trump’s plans for mass arrests, and that an alternative republic would be spearheaded by Trump soon. Others exclaimed their disappointment and disbelief, whilst some went as far as proclaiming that Trump had failed them. Importantly, Sommer describes how top figures of the movement such as Ron Watkins, often thought to be Q, hinted that the QAnon fight was over. Sommer warns, however, that the response of some members allude to the endurance of the QAnon movement, with adherents fashioning that members had simply misunderstood Q’s messaging and that supporters should “hold the line”. The article concludes that the problems caused by QAnon, such as murders and terrorist incidents are also likely to endure, with President Biden’s top intelligence chief promising an investigation into the network. (Sommer, The Daily Beast, 20.01.21).

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