March, May, June, July and September 2017. For five consecutive times only this year, the United Kingdom was targeted by terrorist attacks with some kind of connection with Daesh. The common factor linking these events is the presence of messages and extremist content online. Authorities and companies have come together to try to reduce the virtual advance of terrorism in social networks, but this task may be more difficult than it appears. A report released earlier this year by the British think tank Policy Exchange, “The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online”, revealed that Daesh, despite losing ground in the virtual world, continues to produce broad, long-term content that is distributed in countless networks and countries, especially in the United Kingdom.
According to the report, the main distribution platform for extremist content is the internet. The content conveyed invites followers from all over the world to fight for the construction of an Islamic nation while it preaches fighting against the enemy, that is, anyone who is not a Sunni Muslim. Still according to Policy Exchange, Daesh has focused on the virtual environment due to three characteristics: speed in content and information spread, agility to navigate multiple platforms and resilience to survive the constant blocks of accounts on social networks. Moreover, the study also presents the three stages in which the main propaganda strategy can be divided:
Authorities and media companies from several countries have been working to try to prevent the online advance of extremism. The British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking after the July attack in London, said that is necessary to block access to areas used by terrorists to communicate on the networks. On the other hand, companies discuss issues such as privacy and freedom of expression. But the biggest problem, as Policy Exchange points out, seems to be the journalist’s role. The study reveals that, often, the mainstream media reproduces extremist content instead of analyzing it. According to the report “The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online”, some of the biggest daily newspapers became a tool for spreading the jihadist message, not for fighting it or informing the people.
The report also shows that many inquiries made a mistake in saying that Daesh was in decline: “the volume of content produced by the group has declined in traditional networks and media, but it does not mean that nothing has been produced. There is a greater dispersion of information across networks, which affects people in different parts of the world”. The United Kingdom is one of the places, as the study points out, most affected by these productions. This may help to understand why the country, in such a short time, has been the aim of several terrorist attacks. Much has already been done, but, as the British report points out, “it is worth considering what options for change are available”.
By Larissa Infante
The full report can be accessed here: https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/The-New-Netwar-2.pdf