On 10 and 11 April, Europol’s European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC) hosted its first high-level conference on Online Terrorist Propaganda. Over 150 participants gathered at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague to discuss a wide variety of topics pertaining to the current online terrorist threat.
Participants included members of the ECTC Advisory Group on Terrorist Propaganda, representatives of the EU Commission and EU Council, academia professionals and law enforcement practitioners from both Europe and the US.
Terrorist groups, such as the so-called Islamic State (IS), largely owe their success to their well-planned and implemented strategy on the Internet. Their virtual footprint will remain on the Internet for the foreseeable future as a result of the widescale production of slickly-edited content accumulated over recent years. Tackling this challenge remains at the very forefront of the EU’s counter-terrorism efforts, with success only achievable through co-ordinated and systematic action bringing together law enforcement, public institutions and the private sector.
Recognising the need for such a multi-stakeholder approach, back in July last year the ECTC established an Advisory Group on Online Terrorist Propaganda, bringing together EU Internet Referral Unit (IRU) staff with academics and practitioners boasting recognised expertise in the field of the terrorist exploitation of online communications. With the creation of this Advisory Group, the ECTC aims to draw on its members’ expertise and technological solutions to keep pace with the way in which terrorist groups adapt their messaging and communications to changing environments and new technologies.
Mapping terrorist networks online
The results of this multi-stakeholder co-operation were presented at Europol’s Online Terrorist Propaganda Conference alongside topics ranging from solutions on how to analyse Big Data and map terrorist networks online through to insights into the online behaviour, tactics and communication regime of terrorists. The outcome of the conference will help Europol and EU law enforcement in general to better focus their counter-terrorism efforts, as well as enhance the tools and techniques in place for more effective prevention and investigation.
Since the launch of Europol’s EU IRU in July 2015, concrete steps have been taken to stop the abuse of the Internet by terrorist groups with measurable outcomes. Over 83% of the content referred to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by the EU IRU thus far has been removed. The EU IRU continues to engage with ISPs to encourage the voluntary and rapid removal of terrorist content from their platforms.
The EU IRU is part of the EU Internet Forum, a public-private partnership launched by the EU Commission in December 2015. This Forum has two key objectives: reducing accessibility to terrorist content online and empowering civil society partners to increase the volume of effective alternative narratives on the Internet.
By engaging with the Internet industry, the EU IRU is playing a key role in addressing the Forum’s first objective of reducing accessibility to terrorist content online.