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‘Extremists use technology but don’t call them geniuses’

Speakers at ICMC session explore ways people are fighting back

SAMAA | - Posted: Feb 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: Feb 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
‘Extremists use technology but don’t call them geniuses’

Terrorists, the far right and left and extremists are constantly devising new ways find, identify and contact people, especially young ones who are at risk of being radicalized. They are doing this online and by using apps, which governments around the world are trying to grapple with.

According to Ross Frenett, the director of Moonshot CVE, UK, a group that works on countering violent extremism, terrorists used conventional social media platforms initially but then when governments started cracking down on that and the social media platforms came under increasing pressure to act, that has also put pressure on these non-state actors to find other ways to recruit.

ISIS or Daesh, for example, even tried using Snapchat but had to retreat. Snapchat isn’t an app that really supported the ways they wanted to use it. Much more popular is Telegram, because it more effectively allows a group like ISIS to broadcast messages. Other encrypted apps like WhatsApp limit you. Facebook has also had to do some soul-searching ever since a terrorist attack in Christchurch was live streamed by the perpetrator.

Frenett was speaking at the second International Conference on Media and Conflict at Islamabad’s Jinnah convention centre on Tuesday. The conference has been organized by the government through its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as part of its efforts to bring together international and local academics, journalists, young people, university students to talk about and create a body of knowledge about success stories fighting conflict and hate online.

We must not give terrorists too much credit by calling them geniuses, Frenett said. Yes, they use technology and are always looking for new ways to adapt, but there are ways in which people are also fighting back.
Rashad Ali of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue went into detail of how extremist-thinking groups spread their message to achieve their strategic goals with individuals and communities by using misinformation, disinformation and sheer propaganda.

This works in societies where there are cleavages or schisms. In Myanmar (Burma), for example, Buddhist monks have made a deliberate attempt to dehumanize a community, the Rohingya Muslims to incite violence. These are examples of online hate moving into offline violence.

States also use certain tactics online for their strategic political goals, added Rashad Ali. One, they spread actual misinformation, which is deemed credible because the State is influential. We have seen Modi in India do this to justify policies that were ultimately damaging. Then there is the absolute closing down of information as we saw Modi’s government do in Kashmir. You suppress information from coming out and so you prevent any reporting on atrocities. You control the narrative.

One example of Russian disinformation comes from 2013, when RT blamed a chemical weapons on the Syrian people, even though it was recorded otherwise.

At other times, states outright deny information. China did this with Uighur concentration camps. Then they called them “re-education camps” to admit there was something but not what you thought. The BBC exposed it as a propaganda campaign.

Rashad Ali advised that people receiving information online should ask some simple questions: Who made it? How did they make it? Is it a state actor? This is why we need more critical journalism, he argued. For, “Critical thinking isn’t the ability to disagree with something you don’t like. It is the ability to disagree with something that supports your bias.”

Muhammad Bilal is an AIOU student who volunteered to cover the ICMC 2020 as part of its collaboration with SAMAA Digital. @MBilalHamza

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