Research network launched to understand latest trends in online terrorist propaganda

RUSI headquarters in central London

RUSI headquarters in central London

Leading Think Tanks and academic institutions from around the world are coming together to understand terrorist exploitation of technology and the digital space. The Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology has been formed to better understand how terrorist networks operate online, the ethics of content moderation and the interplay between online content and offline actions.

The initiative is being led by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in the UK and brings together partners from around the world, including the Brookings Institution (US), the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (Netherlands), Swansea University (UK), the Observer Research Foundation (India), the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (Israel) and the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Indonesia).

The Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology is supported by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an industry-led initiative comprising Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

The Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology will publish a series of papers that aims to provide recommendations around the prevention of terrorist exploitation of technology to policymakers, technology companies and other stakeholders working on the problem of terrorist content online.

Learning the lessons

The first paper outlines how Internet regulators can learn lessons from experiences in countering terrorist financing to tackle terrorism content online. Written by Florence Keen of RUSI’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, the paper argues that policymakers developing a regulatory regime for communication service providers should engage with the sector itself in order to mitigate the unintended consequences of regulation, as experienced within the counter-terrorist finance regime.

Without effective collaboration between regulators and those tasked with tackling terrorist content online, the paper warns of counter-productive measures such as over-reporting, a ‘tick-box’ approach towards compliance and discrimination against smaller entities that may have fewer resources to commit to regulatory compliance.

Keen said: “There are clear benefits in taking lessons learned from long-standing efforts on counter-terrorist financing into account when developing a response to the online terrorist threat. Any such partnership must, however, consider the legal and practical gateways for sharing information, particularly as they may include stakeholders operating in multiple jurisdictions.”

Additional papers published by the Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology will examine several areas affecting terrorist content online. These include exploring the recruiting tactics terrorists use online, the ethics and laws surrounding terrorist content moderation and the resources needed to adequately and responsibly remove online terrorist content.

Continued exploitation of technology

James Sullivan, research Fellow in cyber threats and cyber security at RUSI, stated: “Although the evolution of technology provides improved capability and services to all sections of society, threat actors continue to exploit it for their own causes and activities. The Global Research Network on Technology and Terrorism will conduct research that develops a strong evidence base for policymakers and practitioners to draw on. In doing so, we aim to inform approaches to reducing the spread of terrorism and extremism in the online environment.”

Dr Erin Saltman, policy manager for the EMEA at Facebook, concluded: “The vision is to prevent terrorists from exploiting our platforms. We’re an industry-led initiative, but we also know that, in order to achieve our goals, we need to collaborate with a wide range of NGOs, academic experts and Governments. The research conducted by the Global Research Network on Technology and Terrorism will help our industry to better understand the myriad ways in which terrorist entities use the digital space and how to effectively challenge them.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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