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Countering ISIS
140 Characters of Jihad

In the age when terrorists can recruit followers from halfway around the world, a question looms over social media companies: how to deal with content posted by jihadi groups. From WashPo:

As the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, continues to hold large parts of Iraq and Syria and inspire terrorist attacks in more and more countries, it has come to rely upon U.S. social-media companies to summon fresh recruits to its cause, spread its propaganda and call for attacks, according to counterterrorism analysts. […]

“ISIS has been confronting us with these really inhumane and atrocious images, and there are some people who believe if you type ‘jihad’ or ‘ISIS’ on YouTube, you should get no results,” Victoria Grand, Google’s director of policy strategy, told The Washington Post in a recent interview. “We don’t believe that should be the case. Actually, a lot of the results you see on YouTube are educational about the origins of the group, educating people about the dangers and violence. But the goal here is how do you strike a balance between enabling people to discuss and access information about ISIS, but also not become the distribution channel for their propaganda?”

Striking a proper balance is an elusive task indeed. Even if there were a clear line of demarkation between “good” and “bad” content, technological shortfalls make it “difficult to distinguish between communiques from terrorist groups and posts by news organizations and legitimate users.”

A recent feature in our magazine’s pages addressed this issue, arguing that it’s high time the Western world takes aggressive action to expel such content from its servers and social media sites. James van de Velde asserts that “[w]ithout contesting extremist use of the internet, the United States and its allies will fail to defeat the Islamic State and to eliminate al-Qaeda, both of which are, let us remember, the stated goals of U.S. policy.” Furthermore, shutting down those sites and accounts isn’t a useless game of whack-a-mole—it can do significant damage to jihadi web presence and slow their operations down. The piece, which can be found here, is worth reading in full—this issue isn’t going away.

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  • rheddles

    This will not be as easy as you think.

    First, who decides what content to dispel? On what basis do they make the decision? How do they implement it? What if it is hosted on servers in, oh I don’t know, Iran? Do we ban all traffic from Iranian IP addresses?

    I assert that the problem is not posts on the internet, but the people who write them and without utterly destroying them and their ideology, we will continue to live with ISIS and al-Q. But there is no support yet for a civilizational war on our part. But one day…

    • JR

      May that time come speedily, in our days….

    • f1b0nacc1

      I am not comfortable with ANYONE deciding what speech is acceptable and what speech is not. You need only need to look at the current administration and its rather tortured notion of what constitutes free speech to see how dangerous this road is
      If we want to deal with the problem of extremists and their speech, deal with the extremists, and counter the speech with more speech. If we cannot win those debates openly, we have much, much bigger problems.

      • jeburke

        Nonsense. There is no countering ISIS with “more speech.” This is foreign propaganda aimed at killing Americans. We have no more obligation to allow it to enter the US via the interner, just because electronic technologies makes that possible, than we were obliged to let Nazi propaganda enter the US via the mail in 1943.

        • f1b0nacc1

          If ISIS restricts themselves to speech (foreign propaganda aimed at killing Americans), then they are welcome to continue it. If they GO BEYOND that (i.e. blowing things up, killing people, etc.), then they should be exterminated like the vermin that they are. Speech is just that…speech, it isn’t violence, and it isn’t destructive unless we choose to believe it.
          As for permitting speech to enter the country, that ship has sailed. Unless you want to kill the speakers, you are pretty much stuck with the free exchange of ideas, and that is a good thing. I don’t like a lot of ill-informed or even destructive speech, but the results of letting me, or anyone else, choose to police speech I don’t like is certainly a whole lot worse.
          If we aren’t going to engage in the exchange of ideas, we have already lost no matter how effective our censorship.

          • jeburke

            More complete nonsense. No, the ship did not sail. That’s the point of the article — whether to block ISIS social media propaganda. It iz entirely possible as a technical matter to do exactly that. They are welcome to continue propaganda aimed at killing Americans? Not in my neighborhood — and I’ll bet you won’t post that comment under your actual name. No, all speech is not good speech. Nazi speech brought about an aggressive war that killed millions. Think Hitler or Imperial Japan could have been defeated with a “free exchange of ideas,” or for that matter the US could have won its independence in a robust debate? These ISIS guys are bloodthirsty killers, not oddball bloggers.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Apparently you know comparatively little about computers. Even the Chinese, who spend vast sums on building/maintaining their “Golden Shield” to block ‘undesirable’ web traffic cannot stop a determined user. The US (not to mention the rest of the West) is even less likely to be able to do so, particularly with our existing base of civil liberties.
            As far as their speech being obnoxious, of course it is…did you truly think otherwise? However, if they want to speak, they can do so to their hearts content as long as they do not ACT UPON IT, (and yes, I would be happy to post that under my real name, just for the record), the word ACT being key there. Speech is not harmful, ideas are not harmful…actions are harmful. The notion that someone thinks that they have the right to determine what I can and cannot say is far scarier to me than the worst terroristic speech. Exposure to ideas, even the worst or silliest ideas, is not bad in and of itself…and more debate is a good thing. Who are you, I, or anyone else to decide what constitutes acceptable discourse? Do you really want to give up that sort of awesome control to the government?
            As far as ISIS or any of the rest (Imperial Japan, Nazi German, or Communist Russia for that matter), their speech was not dangerous, their actions were. If the problem was defeating their speech, we already outgunned them (if you don’t believe this, the history of the last century would appear to be lost upon you), whereas their ACTIONS were another matter entirely.
            Remember that the very people you will empower to restrict what you can and cannot see or hear will not simply give up that power once they finish blocking the jihadis, but will continue to use it against other ‘threats’ that they consider worthwhile. Our current administration doesn’t believe in free speech when it is pro-gun rights, or anti-global warming hysteria, and his allies in the loony left include the feminists and radical gays who have already demonstrated their contempt for open discourse. Franklin’s dictum that ‘those who trade their freedom for security will soon have neither’ is especially apt here. The struggle of ideas is never easy, but it is ultimately worthwhile, for it is the only way to truly guarantee freedom.

          • jeburke

            They are “ACTING UPON IT.” Meanwhile, your mom is calling you.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Then stop them from acting upon it, I entirely endorse that…
            Come now, the last comment is unworthy of you…

  • FriendlyGoat

    Islam itself requires a messaging war from us. Radical Islam requires a bigger one. OF COURSE we should be disconnecting, zapping, banning, censoring, erasing, or harassing anything which can possibly be construed as a call to jihad from extremists. We westerners invented this technology and we maintain most of what makes it work. We are utter idiots for valuing the freedom of speech of those who are trying to take all freedom away. (Yes, I’m a liberal. No, I don’t invite liberalism to be stupid. Fight this nonsense with the means we have.)

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