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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