We need positive measures to counter online extremism

There is an absence of counter-speech initiatives by the UK government to challenge the jihadist narrative.

There is an absence of counter-speech initiatives by the UK government to challenge the jihadist narrative

The exodus of individuals who have left Britain to join Islamic State (IS) in recent months has reignited the debate on how best to prevent extremism and implement counter-terrorism measures.

Today the government faces major obstacles in preventing the radicalisation and recruitment of individuals.

It is imperative that the government, internet service providers and social media sites take more responsibility for policing extremist content.

The government’s current strategy largely focuses on the use of negative measures to counter extremism. The use of blocking, filtering and taking down content have become the main tactics to do this.

While negative measures remain an attractive option for many governments and law enforcement agencies, they have proven futile in their current form.

Ironically it can be argued that terrorism stems from a type of censorship, thus the current strategy maybe be encouraging instead of preventing extremists.

The White Paper released yesterday by Quilliam has highlighted the need for government policy to focus on developing positive and long-term measures that coordinate with current counter extremist initiatives.

Currently, there is an absence of counter-speech initiatives by the UK government to challenge the jihadist narrative. Producing positive counter-speech content can be generated through online initiatives that focus on challenging the terrorist narrative.

Alternatively, the government could liaise with organisations and websites to challenge a wider range of issues through counter-speech messaging, by distributing videos, articles and related material.

However, it is important that Britain does not mirror the efforts of the US State Department Counter-Terrorism Communications, whose campaign ‘Think Again Turn Away’ has been inadequate.

Through social media, this programme attempts a dual approach of countering the jihadist narrative, while directly engaging with prominent jihadist accounts. This type of direct online engagement reduces the credibility of the government and ultimately the counter-narrative programme.

Therefore, any counter-speech narratives developed by the government should be used to clarify their particular stance on a topic, or provide clarity on an issue that has been targeted by the jihadist narrative.

Alternatively, counter-speech narratives should be developed and delivered through a range of actors from civil society. Research has proven that individuals within civil society are more adept at delivering counter-speech narratives which can target an audience.

Not only can this refute the jihadist narrative, but it can also provide an alternative message to its target audience.

It is evident that the government needs to be more proactive in providing infrastructure to develop counter-speech initiatives. Currently there is no incentive programme for organisations and groups to develop and deliver counter-speech narratives.

Providing financial assistance and other incentives will encourage the development of targeted counter-speech narratives from these groups.

Social media companies including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and internet service providers (ISP) are also important facilitators of this programme. In conjunction with the UK Government’s Prevent strategy, these companies could encourage grassroots initiatives to tackle extremism online.

Social media sites would receive many benefits from encouraging counter-speech narratives. Not only would it help draw out extremist views which could be monitored, but it would also increase the credibility of these companies.

While it has been proven that the use of social media sites by extremists does not radicalise individuals, many have criticised social media sites for hosting extremist content. Thus, facilitating counter-speech initiatives will increase the credibility of these companies.

It is evident that a unified effort from both the public and private sector is fundamental to developing a programme which challenges the sources of extremism both on and off-line.

However, any strategy that is developed by the UK government needs to be done in conjunction with other countries within Europe and other continents. The world today is becoming increasingly interconnected, thus a transnational and coordinated movement is needed to deliver an effective strategy to counter extremism.

Ruth Manning works with the Quilliam Foundation

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8 Responses to “We need positive measures to counter online extremism”

  1. damon

    This kind of discussion reminds me slightly of the debate about football hooliganism thirty years ago. People at a loss about what to do, thinking up ideas that were so far from the reality of what made these young football gangs do what they did.
    And talk of providing other outlets for young people and societal change.
    None of it ever really worked. In the end it was policing and control that stopped the hooligans.
    In Muslim communities, a fair number of young people – a percentage – will have flirtations with Islamic extremism. Even if that never goes further than watching some things online and conversations with their mates. It’s pretty hard to reason with them from an adult perspective, because youth resists adult supervision.
    One might want to ask though why so many young people from ethnic minority backgrounds only hang out with people from their own community.
    When I was in France earlier this year, I only ever saw Arab young men in the company of other Arab young men. And they had developed a street culture that made it almost impossible for it to be any other way.
    It ends up in the housing estate culture of rap music, drugs and support for people like Dieudonné with their antisemitism and wild conspiracy ideas.
    How do you counter that? It’s too difficult really I think.

  2. Gary Scott

    Just who is it who gets to decide who the extremists are? We’ve already heard David Cameron state that extremism needn’t be ‘violent’. That being the case we already have laws on incitement. We are at a pivotal point not just in current events but for the future of Britain as a country of free speech. We’ve seen abuses of power by NSA and previous action leads me to believe that we have more freedom of speech than USA. I am thinking chiefly of McCarthyism, whilst Britain had an active Communist Party. How many of our political parties could be considered extremists? Don’t they have the right to espouse views we violently disagree with? So who gets to decide, and why?

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    So you think it was police violence that works, unsurprising.

    No, that’s why police are not called to so many inner city incidents today. And now you want to bring more violence to people on the basis of religion, which will spread and not halt extremism.

    Of course people are not going to hang out with white people when it gets them harassed and hurt by the police – and it’s not great for the white people involved either. You are trying to *cause* the situation France is suffering under.

    As you blame council houses, blame the music, blame poverty, etc.
    You don’t think, I agree. You’d rather just send in the pigs.

    The results are clear – France’s Jews are being driven out.

  4. damon

    I didn’t say any of what you seem to think I said.
    I didn’t make any suggestions about what to do. I don’t think there is much wider society can do. We have to suck it up really?
    I didn’t ”blame” council estates for creating the urban youth culture in France, where burning hundreds of neighbourhood cars on new years eve has become a tradition. But their geographical locations and being used as dumping grounds for minorities probably has something to do with why they can be grim places.
    It probably doesn’t help that a lot of Muslim children attend religious classes after school. Being religious headbangers was never really the British way.
    It will make those children different to their non religious peers, and maybe one of the reasons why people separate out and mix more with people like themselves.
    Whatever the state does there will be resentment. There are general greviences already that the Muslim community is being ”picked on” and always being talked about negatively. And some of that is true. LBC radio presenter NIck Ferrari talks about Muslims almost every day. Sometimes for good reason and sometimes just to give his show a topic to talk about.

    Given the amount of dodgy ideas floating around the wider Muslim communities, where inviting religious extremists to talk at the mosque is quite common, then it’s difficult to see where good advice for young people will relibaly come from.
    From individual parents of course. Maybe schools have to step up as well and have discussions with kids about some of these issues.
    But could non Muslim teachers do it? Most couldn’t.

  5. Guest

    So you do in fact blame minorities for making areas “grim” and cat burning.
    You blame freedom of religion for extremism.
    You make excuses for calling for separation of communities and your picking on Muslims.
    You make the usual noises about Muslims being inherently dodgy, etc.

    So I was right all along, thanks for that.

  6. damon

    Look, I was only looking around the internet to see if there were any interesting subjects being discussed, and to see if any of them had any worthwhile discussion forums with them.
    It doesn’t look like I’ve found one here, just the same old left or right partisanship where people just slag each other off.

    For the record, IMO, French housing estates are grim because they are used to ”house and forget” people out on the edge of cities. They are poor designs which isolate communities from the mainstream of that city. The people left there have then developed their own subcultures, and quite quickly you have a divide. I don’t see where you get me blaming minority people for this directly.

    We have freedom of religion, but I don’t have to like religion.
    I don’t particularly, so that would be a reason I’m not a fan of after school madrasas. You can’t ban them, but maybe they need to be talking to the young people about more than the Koran etc, and be telling them about the dangers of looking at jihadi porn and such.
    Tell them it’s haram and sinful.
    And sorry be so blunt, but a lot of Muslim politics are inherently dodgy.
    Why are Muslims overly concerned about Israel for example, but hardly bothered with what the Sudanese government got up to in the last couple of decades?
    When were there ever coaches of Muslims from Blackburn and Bradford ever down in London to march against that oppression?
    Or where are the protests in support of Christians in the Middle East and Pakistan etc? You never see them the way you will for anti Israel demos.

    Anyway, I see this site is a bit quiet and not much is going on?

  7. Guest


    Of course there are plenty of calls for banning them and state control. As you conflate religion and politics again…when the “British Muslim community” is nothing of the sort, it’s a bunch of separate communities, many of which really don’t like each other.

    And you don’t see them *on the news*. Sharp difference.

  8. damon

    I don’t really know what you’re on about, but I don’t see any worthwhile discussion here. I haven’t suggested any bans. I’ve actually said we probably just have to lump this Islamic extremism as we can’t do much about it now. The police and security services will do their bit when necessary ….. and that’s about it.

    I don’t particularly like the idea of non violent extremism becoming mainstream in sections of the Muslim communities, but that’s what you get when you have large scale immigration from the Muslim world. I read it’s even becoming an issue in Kosovo now.
    It’s part of the modern world. It even grows inside British prisons.
    It is a big problem, but what to do? I don’t really know.

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