Photo Credit: courtesy

{Written by Uzi Shaya and originally posted to the Gatestone Institute website}

The nature of Islamic terrorism throughout the world has changed in recent years. Alongside the established and organized groups — such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even ISIS — a new and different type terror has been created, one that is nourished ideologically, spiritually, and intellectually by these groups, yet shows no connection — organizationally or operationally — to them.

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This terror is defined by what we refer to as “lone wolves.” These are individuals whose nationalistic motives, religious incitement or psychological needs propel them to commit acts of terror without being a member of an organized group or cell. The one unifying aspect for all these lone wolves is social media.

Social media networks enable any individual to have his voice and his opinions heard so that his proclamations can resonate with audiences that are far-reaching. Unfortunately, the existing freedoms on social media have been manipulated by terrorist groups to create a threat that poses a clear and present danger to citizens around the world.

Terrorist groups around the world have recognized the potential of social media and these networks have become an essential component — in fact, an unhindered course of action — in allowing the global terrorist networks greatly to expand the operations of terror groups and their supporters worldwide, and affect billions of people around the world. These operations and activities include disseminating “open messages,” the recruitment of new members and supporters, but most importantly to advertise and promote the essence of their terror movement and the glorified aftermath of attacks that they have perpetrated. In the process, the terrorist groups can reach a potential army of a million possible soldiers without any direct connection to them.

This is how lone wolves are born.

Under the guise of protecting free speech, the social media conglomerates have not risen to the challenge of stemming the use of their networks and platforms by terrorist entities and have, instead, turned a blind eye to the growing and menacing phenomenon. Equally harmfully, under illusion of virtue-signaling and “political correctness” to show they are not “racist,” they have been censoring material that warns the public about these current dangers.

As a direct result of several high-profile terrorist attacks and the outcry from victims, along with an increased global profile of ISIS and subsequent legal action brought against these companies, social media networks have only marginally addressed the issue of limiting terrorist recruitment and incitement on their platforms.

Sadly, it must be noted that these efforts are neither timely nor aggressive enough to stop the use of these platforms to promote terror, and stem solely as preemptive efforts to stop public outcry and legal action.

The social media networks have the ability and the means dramatically to limit the manipulation of their services by terrorist groups, but they do not exercise this control. Instead, they rely on users to report any unsavory activity. The social media networks continue to permit terrorist groups to use their services openly and brazenly to promote their groups and their hate-filled doctrines. The propaganda arms of many terrorist organizations continue to use the social media networks, primarily Facebook, to spread their messages to ever expanding audiences. Organizations and individuals who are designated as terrorists on U.S. and international watch-lists are able flagrantly to open social media accounts even though virtually all the social media companies are headquartered in the United States.

The conclusion is that the social media companies are adopting an adversarial case-by-case approach to enforcing a ban on terror incitement on their platforms.

Beyond the rhetoric and the pleas for action, the social media applications have not — and it appears will not — self-enforce common-sense restrictions prohibiting terrorist groups from disseminating their radical messages and criminal exploits online, and they continue to shirk their own responsibility for these posts.

The failure by the social media networks to enforce the prevention of terror-related content on their sites is, in fact, a direct violation of the Antiterrorism Act and the Material Supply Statutes; the general public is also in its right to have the protections of the Community Decency Act of 1996 cover content on social media.

It goes without saying that the laws along with their subsequent enforcement must adopt to this fairly new mass communications and mass media reality to force these platforms to assume complete responsibility or else be regulated by the government as if they were a utility, so that this unmitigated threat to the safety of millions of people around the world can be stopped.

(Uzi Shaya is a former senior officer in the Israeli Intelligence community; former head of financial warfare operations in the Israeli intelligence community and an expert in social media warfare)

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