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How to keep Facebook, Twitter from being terrorists’ hunting grounds

Sharon Gaudin | Aug. 4, 2016
How government and social media can curb terrorists' online recruiting

YouTube, which also terminates known terrorist accounts, has a team working around the clock that reviews videos flagged as potentially objectionable. Under each video is a "promotes terrorism" flag, which viewers also can use to alert YouTube of such videos so they can be taken down.

What else can be done?

Rand's Boudine-Baron, who has been researching terrorists and their social media activities since 2014, said that while the account suspension campaigns reduce the ease with which people can stumble on to terrorist content and outreach, there needs to be a bigger presence in "counter messaging."

That's where the government and social networks could work together.

"Various government organizations are engaged in counter messaging campaigns," said Boudine-Baron. "What content can they provide to offer an alternative message? They might provide stories of people who have left ISIS and their reasons behind it; former jihadis countering violent extremism."

Using sites like Facebook, YouTube, Telegram and Twitter gets the counter messages to the same population that the terrorists are preying on.

The government, according to Boudine-Baron, could play a role in helping to find the right people to make the counter messages. A troubled teenager might not pay attention to a tweet from someone in law enforcement but might listen to someone who has suffered from terrorism or who used to be involved with a terrorist group but turned his life around.

The government, she added, also could offer financial assistance to groups and social networks working on counter messaging.

"Our government needs to figure out ways to make counter-messaging strategies more effective," Boudine-Baron said.

Weinberger agreed, saying that the focus should be on intervention campaigns.

"If there are chat rooms where people are talking, think about discrediting that message and get to these same people who are vulnerable and try to redirect them," he said. "Let's say someone says, 'Look at this hashtag.' Then you need someone else debunking that but they have to have someone who would be respected or has an authoritarian voice in that community."

Gina Ligon, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who also has been conducting research for the consortium on terrorism, said it would be useful to have more information on how terrorist groups share their messages online and what their point of influence s.

"We also need to look at what ISIS has done well and what they have struggled with so we could learn for future groups who use these tactics," Ligon told Computerworld in an email. "We have seen an increase in similar techniques from the Al-Nusrah front and other global jihad groups."

She added that the government also could fund research on the online influence of violent extremist groups -- both domestic and international.


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