Recommendations on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online
This GCTF framework document details several good practices for states to curb radicalization through the internet.
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Introduction Since its inception, the Internet has offered innumerable opportunities for society, facilitating economic development, communication, participation and access to information. An open, secure, stable, accessible, and peaceful ICT environment is essential for all and requires effective cooperation among States to reduce risks to international peace and security. However, the Internet is also often misused by violent extremists and terrorists. Violent extremist and terrorist groups are increasingly using communication technologies to fundraise, intimidate, train, radicalize, recruit and incite others to commit violent extremist and terrorist acts. Governments should take appropriate steps to prevent and counter the use of the Internet for violent extremist and terrorist purposes (including through social media), while respecting privacy and freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief, as well as the need to preserve global connectivity and the free and secure flow of information. These responses can be divided into two main categories:
Content-based responses: Government efforts to address the availability and accessibility of violent extremist and terrorist propaganda through international cooperation and to engage with private companies to counter terrorism and violent extremism online on a collaborative basis, including content reporting, removal, filtering and appropriate regulation/legislation.
Communications-based responses: Government efforts to support or assist in challenging the appeal of violent extremist and terrorist propaganda through strategic communications, including supporting civil society organizations to use counter- and alternative narratives both online and offline.
The UN General Assembly noted in its fifth review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy the importance of cooperation among stakeholders in the implementation of the Strategy, including among Member States, international, regional and subregional organizations, the private sector and civil society, to address the increasing use of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) by terrorists and their supporters, while respecting human rights, fundamental freedoms and complying with international law and the purposes and principles of the Charter. The General Assembly stressed that it is essential to develop the most effective means to counter terrorist propaganda, incitement and recruitment, including through the Internet, in compliance with international law, including international human rights law. Furthermore, The General Assembly recommends that Member States consider the implementation of relevant recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, as applicable to the national context, which identifies strategic communications, the Internet and social media as key action areas in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism.
The UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement in May 2016 (S/PRST/2016/6) recognizing that the international community should consider developing effective means to counter terrorist propaganda, incitement and recruitment, including through the Internet, in compliance with international law, including international human rights law. As requested by the Security Council, the Counter-Terrorism Committee submitted to the Security Council on 28 April 2017 a proposal for a comprehensive international framework to counter-terrorist narratives. Based upon this submission, the Security Council adopted resolution 2354 (2017), which notes the urgent need to globally counter the activities of certain violent extremist and terrorist groups to incite and recruit to commit terrorist acts and further notes that terrorists use ICT services, such as the Internet and social media, to help craft and spread distorted narratives as well as to mobilize resources and garner support from sympathisers. At the Seventh Ministerial Plenary Meeting in New York on 21 September 2016, Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) Ministers endorsed the launch of a review and assessment of existing governmental best practices and lessons learned in online prevention and counter-measures to address violent extremism online as part of the GCTF’s Initiative to Address the Life Cycle of Radicalization to Violence (Life Cycle Initiative). Accordingly, the non-binding recommendations below compile a non-exhaustive list of governmental good practices regarding strategic communications and social media aspects in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism online for GCTF Members – as well as any other interested Government. The good practices expressed in this document were identified in meetings and subsequent discussions with GCTF Members, reflecting their experience in this regard. Moreover, with these recommendations, the GCTF aims to support and complement existing work and initiatives by other international and regional organizations, namely the UN and other relevant stakeholders involved in this context.
The good practices are divided into three sections:
Section I addresses overarching good practices for preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism online;
Section II addresses good practices for content-based responses; and
Section III addresses good practices for communications-based responses. In this respect, Sections I, II and III are considered complementary to pursuing a comprehensive approach to preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism on the Internet and social media platforms.
These recommended good practices are intended to address violent extremism that is conducive to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It should be underlined that violent extremism and terrorism are not exclusive to any region, nationality, or belief. GCTF Members and other interested Governments are encouraged to consider the implementation of these good practices in their respective national contexts while tailoring them to local conditions and cultures, and ensure that measures taken to counter terrorism and violent extremism, including to counter those narratives, comply with Member States’ obligations under international law, including international human rights law, and respect the rule of law.
These recommendations stress the importance of firmly embedding content- and communications- based responses within a comprehensive online and offline approach to preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism involving the active participation and collaboration of all States and international and regional organizations while respecting privacy and freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief, as well as mentioned in the Report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security of 22 July 2015 the need to preserve global connectivity and the free and secure flow of information6. Such a comprehensive approach should encompass preventive as well as security and criminal justice measures, pursuant to international law and while ensuring national ownership, to address all drivers of violent extremism conducive to terrorism, both internal and external, in a balanced manner, as well as manifestations of violent extremism and terrorism on the Internet and social media platforms. It is important for effectively addressing the availability, accessibility and influence of violent extremist and terrorist content online to provide for appropriate/effective investigation and prosecution, by the appropriate national authorities, of persons who engage in violent extremist and terrorist acts, such as the criminal facilitation of violent extremism and terrorism online, including recruitment, terrorist financing, attack planning and coordination, threat communications, and other crimes. In addition, such a comprehensive approach entails acknowledging the important role of the media in “enhance[ing] dialogue and broaden[ing] understanding, and in promoting tolerance and coexistence, and in fostering an environment which is not conducive to incitement to terrorism, as well as in countering terrorist narratives”. In its “Declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in the context of the fight against terrorism”, the Council of Europe had invited the media and journalists to consider namely bearing in mind their particular responsibilities in order not to contribute to the aims of terrorists, in particular by taking care not to add to the feeling of fear that terrorist acts can create, and not to offer a platform to terrorists by giving them disproportionate attention, and to consider adopting self-regulatory measures, where they do not exist, or adapt existing measures so that they can effectively respond to ethical issues raised by media reporting on violent extremism and terrorism, and implement them. The good practices included in this document do not endorse any specific approach but acknowledge the diverse approaches States take with regards to addressing violent extremism and terrorism and its narratives on the Internet and social media platforms.
It is noted that States have the primary responsibility in countering violent extremism and terrorism. It is a State’s prerogative to decide which approach is most effective, in compliance with its obligations under international law as well as in accordance with its national law.
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