Report Warns Feds of Radicals and Extremists on Social Web

Bipartisan Policy Center study outlines steps the government can take to crowd out extremist messages on the Web, including a clearer legal framework for law enforcement, while warning against censorship or content filtering.

By Kenneth Corbin
Wed, December 05, 2012

CIO — WASHINGTON--In the short time since the advent of the social Web, the Internet has evolved into a platform for innumerable virtual communities of every stripe to gather and collaborate, so it is hardly surprising that along with sites for DIY hobbyists and recipe swaps, a growing number of online forums have emerged that give voice to radicals and extremists, in some cases serving as recruiting tools for terrorist groups.

On Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington think tank, released a report on the mounting dangers of online radicalization, urging the government to formalize a strategy for countering the threat, while at the same time steering clear of any policies that would amount to censorship or the stifling of expression on the Web.

[Related: Cybersecurity Stalls in Senate, Obama Could Issue Executive Order]

The report is the latest installment from the BPC's Homeland Security Project, co-chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, a former representative from Indiana. Kean and Hamilton served as the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the commission convened to examine the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Internet Most Dangerous Innovation for Terrorists

"In its 2004 report, our 9-11 Commission showed the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, even they used the Internet for searches, to buy tickets and to book hotels. Yet not a single one of them was radicalized online," Kean said at an event marking the release of the new report. "More than 10 years since [the] Sept. 11 attack, the use of the Internet to radicalize and recruit home-grown terrorists is the single most important and dangerous terrorist innovation."

[Related: Feds Warn of Cyber Threats, Seek Expanded Authority for DHS]

The report evaluates the challenge of curbing online radicalization from the perspective of supply and demand. It concludes that efforts to shut down websites that could serve as incubators for would-be terrorists--going after the supply--will ultimately be self-defeating, and that "filtering of Internet content is impractical in a free and open society."

"Approaches aimed at restricting freedom of speech and removing content from the Internet are not only the least desirable strategies, they are also the least effective," writes Peter Neumann, founding director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London and the author of the report.

Instead, policymakers should focus their attention on the demand side of the radicalization issue, Neumann argues, with the government spearheading outreach initiatives that would bring together schools, community groups and businesses to advance awareness and media literacy and offer a competing narrative to that presented by sites that traffic in radical propaganda.

Continue Reading

Our Commenting Policies