An Internet Clean Of Jihadi Incitement – Not Mission Impossible. (Memri).
Social media companies are beginning to lose advertising revenue due to the hateful content that appears on their sites. According to reports, major advertisers (Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, General Motors, Walmart, AT&T, HSBC, and others) are pulling ads from social media platforms because they have found their ads placed alongside terrorist videos. YouTube alone may find itself losing $750,000,000 in ad revenue. It therefore seems as if financial considerations rather than moral responsibility are prompting Internet companies to take more vigorous measures to purge their platforms of hate speech and incitement to murder.
Government pressure on the companies is mounting as well. In Germany, Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) is introducing new legislation imposing huge fines of up to 50 million Euros on companies that fail to remove hate speech from their sites. In Britain after the recent Westminster terrorist attack, Home Secretary Amber Rudd summoned executives from Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft to a summit at the Home Office, at which they agreed to "create new technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda" from their platforms, among other measures.
In addition, the families of terror victims are beginning to sue Internet companies for carrying the incitement that radicalized the terrorists and thus led to the killing or injury of their loved ones. One successful lawsuit of this sort will trigger a torrent of further lawsuits, entailing huge losses for the companies.
But will any of this guarantee an Internet free of hate speech and jihadi incitement? No. Not until both the governments and the Internet companies understand that the use of the Internet by jihadi movements poses a real threat to global security, which amounts to an emergency situation requiring them to act accordingly – namely, to make vast financial investments, to develop new technologies, and, most importantly, to fundamentally change their approach and the criteria they employ in removing content from the net.
The goals of this article are:
- first, to present the scope of the problem;
- second, to demonstrate the inadequacy of the measures taken to date to deal with it;
- third, to explain the need for a revolutionary approach;
- and fourth, to present in detail the components of a new, effective strategy to be implemented.
How Did It All Begin?
To understand the magnitude of the threat and the measures required to address it, one must go back to the beginnings of the Internet and of social media.
The Internet, just like nuclear energy and other developments in modern technology, is both a blessing and a source of danger. In most other fields, scientific and technological developments were followed by regulatory legislation to head off potential danger to society and to human life. Land, maritime, and aerial transportation, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, and an endless list of other industries and professions were all subject to regulation.
The Internet companies, on the other hand, enjoyed a climate of infinite license. Since they are based in the U.S., with its almost unlimited free speech, the companies were subjected to few restrictions, and, when challenged, have argued that any further regulation of the information they carried would be an unthinkable violation of the First Amendment.
Europe knew better. As a continent that had been plunged into war due to the uninhibited rise of extremist movements, it understood that not only extremist deeds but also extremist speech and ideologies such as Nazism must be legally banned. Following WWII, Europe legislated against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, leading to the conviction and penalizing of offenders. This helped keep the extremist blight and its mass influence in check.
The Current Global Jihadi Movement Is Unimaginable Without The Internet.
But even in Europe, all this changed with the rise of the Internet. Internet companies worldwide exploited the legislative vacuum in which the Internet existed to create a supranational system that is above the law. A court could penalize the likes of British Holocaust denier David Irving and French comedian and political activist Dieudonné for anti-Semitic speech, but the material that established their criminal culpability remained freely available on the web to influence others. Extremist groups of all persuasions took advantage of this situation, and online hate speech inciting jihad, racism, xenophobia, and genocidal murder spread like a plague.
Online platforms filled with horrific pictures of beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, burnings, drownings, stonings, and other forms of execution. Jihadi organizations used the web to recruit supporters and fighters, provide practical instruction and manuals for terror operations including car bomb and ramming attacks, make arch-terrorists into heroic models for emulation, and raise funds for their activity. The Internet provided them with an ideal vehicle for spreading their ideas, even to young children.
Recently, ISIS schoolbooks, including versions in English, written and used by the organization in its Syrian stronghold of Al-Raqqa, were circulated online via the instant messaging service Telegram – thus making globally available this crucial tool for indoctrinating the younger generation. Terrorist groups' magazines and mouthpieces are also circulated online. Furthermore, some social media provide encrypted platforms, which enable the jihadis to share information safely.
Extremists on the right have entered the fray as well, filling the Internet with their own hatred for minorities, some even urging to follow the example of "Adolfetto" Hitler and exterminate minority groups.
However, most Internet companies have not seemed to care much about this problem. Hundreds of companies all over the U.S. have hosted terrorist organizations without knowing or caring who their customers were. As for social networks, most of their founders were young people largely devoid of historical consciousness.
Focusing on their grand vision of a global online community, they were oblivious to the fact that they were also creating communities of terror and transforming scattered terrorist groups into a global jihadi movement. In the name of empowering people everywhere and giving a voice to each and every individual, they also empowered the most vicious elements in the global community – such as a jihadi who appeared on social media holding up a severed head, calling out "Allah Akbar" and preaching jihad and murder. Social media entrepreneurs continued developing this medium without considering the dangers and the need to take measures against them.
The Invalid Excuses Of The Internet And Social Media Companies.
It is important to review the excuses and ploys used by Internet companies to justify their irresponsible conduct. The first corporate ploy was to simply deny responsibility. "True," they said, "we supply the vehicle (and of course reap the revenues), but somebody else provides the content, so direct your accusations at them." While the terrorists should indeed be the prime target, the companies act as their willing accomplices by making their platform available for criminal use.
It should be mentioned that there is a clear precedent for holding carriers of incitement responsible for the results of that incitement. In the mid-1990s, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced Ferdinand Nahimana, cofounder of the Rwandan radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, to 30 years in prison for spreading incitement that contributed to the Rwanda genocide. Obviously, I do not mean to compare Nahimana, who identified with and sought to promote the genocidal messages on his radio, to the magnates of social media, who are just demonstrating reckless indifference, but only to stress the principle that carriers of incitement can be held accountable for the consequences of that incitement. This principle was in fact established after WWII, in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948, which criminalizes not just the act of genocide but also "direct and public incitement to commit genocide."
In the U.S., too, a district court ruled in 2006 that the First Amendment does not protect the right to disseminate information meant to result in violence. This ruling came in the case of radical animal rights and environmental activist Rodney Adam Coronado, who taught others how to build bombs. "The First Amendment does not provide a defense to a criminal charge simply because the actor uses words [rather than actions] to carry out his illegal purpose," the court stated.
This is the biggest deception of all. First, the companies are clearly failing to enforce their own guidelines, for had they enforced them, the Internet and social media would not be so full of hate speech and incitement to murder. Moreover, unlike companies that produce yogurt, cars, planes, or pharmaceuticals, and that allow government regulators and even end users access to information about their quality control departments and the experts and technologies they use to safeguard the consumer, Internet companies keep us completely in the dark. This information – access to which is an essential right of consumers and government – is their closely guarded secret.
We have no idea how many experts they employ to remove hateful content, how proficient they are in Arabic and other relevant languages, what technological processes they use, or, most importantly, what specific criteria they apply. In fact, Twitter noted recently that it was identifying jihadi content using "internal, proprietary spam-fighting tools" – a description that is a bad joke at the expense of innocent victims.
It is not even clear whether the screening mechanisms that companies have pledged to develop are aimed at removing hate speech and incitement. Google recently promised advertisers to "provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content," thus implying that such content would be kept away from ads, but not necessarily removed. Likewise, Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg implied in a recent post that his network's ultimate goal is to let users decide what content they will be spared from seeing, instead of categorically removing certain types of content.
"The idea," he wrote, "is to give everyone in the community options for how they would like to set the content policy for themselves. Where is your line on nudity? On violence? On graphic content? On profanity? What you decide will be your personal settings."
A third corporate dodge was to shift responsibility onto users, an economic idea of absolute genius. Complaints about online content were answered with "Did you flag it?" Hundreds of millions of users were thus pressed into service as unpaid corporate employees. Beyond the chutzpah involved, this method is also ineffective, because flagging by users is only the first step of a process which continues with referral to committees to validate the flagging. These committees are part of an "internal" and "proprietary" process we know nothing about – save for the fact that the material they are supposed to remove remains online. MEMRI has repeatedly flagged accounts of social media companies and reported on the results. Some were removed; many were not.
Finally, one of the companies' most intellectually dishonest arguments is that they are actually assisting law enforcement agencies. By allowing a free Internet, they say, they enable intelligence agencies to discover and track murderous conspiracies. The companies' argument was seconded by commercial companies seeking to profit from the status quo, and by unscrupulous academics.
This argument also fails because, as noted, some companies, such as Telegram, offer encrypted services which the terrorists gratefully use. Additionally and most importantly, even if a few terror cells have been stopped thanks to a free Internet, the impact this has pales in comparison to the online radicalization of generations of young people. Moreover, the excuse of assisting intelligence bodies has never been endorsed by senior intelligence officials, who have always made the cost-benefit calculation that a free-to-incite Internet works to society's detriment. They have not been fobbed off by netting small fry, or even large fry, because they understood that this came at the price of wholesale indoctrination of generations.
What Is Required To Achieve The Goal Of An Internet Free Of Hate Speech and Incitement To Murder.
1. Understanding The Scope Of The Threat And The Need For A Revolutionary Approach To Counter It.
The war against terror has always been conceptualized as a battle against its violent manifestations. This focus has become even stronger since ISIS established its territorial base in Syria and Iraq. This terrorism, however, has ideological and religious roots, and these roots have grown stronger and more widespread since the Internet and social media companies have enabled them to use their resources toward their goals.
Thus, due to the Internet, terrorism has evolved in recent years from isolated groups to a global phenomenon. The West’s misguided perception of terrorism as a military problem has led them to the belief that overcoming ISIS on the battleground of Syria and Iraq will solve the problem and curb terrorism in the West. However, the combination of the ideological and religious roots with the unlimited power of the Internet will entail that the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq will lead to more –not less – terrorism in the West.
It is a little-known fact that the ideology of ISIS, in the early stages of its violent emergence, focused on enemies within the Islamic world, such as other terrorist organizations, Shi'ites, and others. ISIS represented an historic attempt to recreate a territorial base for radical Islam (the Caliphate).
Fighting the West was not a priority. Indeed, this was the major difference between ISIS and Al-Qaeda, with the latter focusing on jihad against the West. To this day, the ideology of ISIS is embodied in the call for hijra – immigration to the Caliphate – as the pinnacle of belief. Only those who cannot fulfill this call, because the gates of hijra have been closed by the West and because of the West's attacks on ISIS, are called upon to carry out operations in the West. Hence, once ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq, and deprived of its territorial base altogether, the foreign fighters will return home and will attack the West from within, with a vengeance. In this battle, the Internet and the social media will play a major role in the recruitment of Muslim communities in the West to this battle.
This is the reason that the West must adopt a new, revolutionary approach to the role of the Internet and social media, in order to put a stop to its enabling role.
2. Regulating The Internet Through Legislation Is Crucial To Protect Human Lives.
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