UK counter-terror chief warns tech and social media firms must do more to combat increasing threat of ‘remote radicalisation’

Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley, has said that technology and social media firms are lacking in commitment to tackle the online terrorist threat, and are therefore allowing extremists to act with impunity. He also criticised major communication service providers for their failure to take action against extremists, as so far they have not made a single direct referral to British police about terrorist activity on their sites[1].

Rowley told a security conference in London, “Online extremists seem to be able to act with impunity, occupying spaces owned and managed by legitimate and very wealthy corporations … They are effectively private tenants to their communication service provider landlords. In the real world, if a landlord knew their property was being used to plan or inspire terrorist attacks, you would expect them to show responsibility by informing the authorities”[2].

He pointed to the need for future developments in technology to be designed “with corporate social responsibility in mind” in order to prevent their exploitation by terrorists[3].

Rowley’s comments are part of a wider body of criticism directed towards tech firms by the British authorities over recent years.[4]

The European Union’s security commissioner also told the conference that legislation would be passed unless there was rapid progress made on taking down extremist material[5].

The issue of so-called ‘remote radicalisation’ is especially relevant at the moment, as Isis promotes ‘lone wolf’ attacks online in efforts to assert itself as its territory is recaptured and the routes of foreign fighters travelling to join it are intercepted by security services[6]. Thousands of children have been referred to Prevent, the Government’s counter-extremism programme, over concern they are being or have been radicalised by both Islamist and far-right extremist materials, with remote radicalisation being a primary concern[7].

Efforts are being made by Islamic communities to counter this remote radicalisation, with possible responses including the creation of ‘alternative narratives’ based on Islamic theological teachings, and providing more Islamic leaders and mosques especially for young Muslims in order to address the youth ideological information gap that leads to young Muslims seeking ideological guidance online[8].

[1] Holden, 2018.

[2] Holden, 2018.

[3] Holden, 2018.

[4] BBC News, 2018.

[5] Holden, 2018.

[6] Researcher, 2018a.

[7] Researcher, 2018a.

[8] islamchanneltv, 2018; University of Birmingham, 2018; Researcher, 2018b.

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BBC News. (2015) ‘Social media companies ‘undermining’ terror investigations’. [online] 5 October. [Accessed 12 March 2018].

Holden, M. (2018) ‘Social media firms are like irresponsible landlords – UK counter-terrorism police head’. [online] 6 March. [Accessed 12 March 2018].

islamchanneltv. (2018) ‘Forum for Peace ¦Conference Programme’. [online] (video) 28 February. [Accessed 12 March 2018].

Researcher. (2018a) ‘Sentencing of teenage “soldier of the Islamic State” raises questions about “remote radicalisation” online’. [online] 6 March. [Accessed 12 March 2018].

Researcher. (2018b) ‘4th ‘Forum for Peace’ promotes interfaith engagement to counter extremism and tackle Islamophobia’. [online] 12 March. [Accessed 12 March 2018].

University of Birmingham. (2018) ‘Cadbury Centre hosts symposium on Islamic values and human rights’. [online] 27 February. [Accessed 12 March 2018].