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> Counter ing radical isat ion onl ine: I


n December 2013, the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Extremism and


Radicalisation, created in the wake of Drummer Lee Rigby's murder, published its final report. The document reiterated the commitment of the UK government to combat all forms of extremism and outlined priorities for action; notably, countering the promotion of extremist ideologies in the online environment.


Tackling extremist activity online is a challenge, if only because the problem is hard to scope. The technical difficulties involved in capturing an accurate picture of online activities are compounded by the conflation of related yet distinct problems, namely, extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. In the 2011 Prevent Strategy, extremism is characterised as "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs", while terrorism, defined at length in the Terrorism Act 2000, is characterised as a set of actions which involve, but are not limited to, the perpetration of violence against civilians for the purpose of influencing a government in service to religious or political aims. As for


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radicalisation, it is most pragmatically understood as the process of moral development through which an individual comes to see terrorism as a plausible and legitimate course of action.


Radicalisation can lead to involvement in terrorist activities, but the progression from one to the other is not straightforward. To see terrorism as a plausible course of action does not, on its own, drive an individual to get involved in terrorism, much like ownership of a driving licence is not, on its own, enough to get someone behind the wheel of a car. Some kind of motivation is needed to get out of the house and inside the vehicle. One challenge for those groups who want to promote terrorism is to get those individuals who have been successfully radicalised off the couch – and keep them from sitting back down as soon as the material and psychological effort involved in committing acts of terrorism becomes apparent.


An analogy can be drawn with “Get Out The Vote” campaigns, which target those people who are predisposed to vote but who, left to their own devices, would not make it to the polling station. And like “Get Out The Vote”,


those who would promote terrorism have set their sights on digital technologies, in particular social media platforms, as the best instrument to amplify their message and get people moving.


Understanding how extremist online environments enable individual involvement in terrorism is crucial to the design of coherent prevention strategies. Extremist online fora are a concern, because extremist social settings can act as a vector of exposure to radicalising environments. The promotion of extremist discourses is a concern, because extremist narratives articulate frictions and frustrations (cultural, moral, political), which can be perceived as provocations by radicalised individuals and succeed in getting them off the couch. Inasmuch as extremists – including those who do not condone terrorism – successfully promote values which undermine citizens' trust in the legitimacy of state and community leaders to enforce certain norms, they weaken communities' ability to police themselves, leading to the emergence of spaces where terrorism can be promoted with impunity. From a pragmatic perspective, resources devoted to monitoring extremist organisations, whose message may be


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