London — Who looks at Islamist extremist content online?
A new study released Tuesday by the Policy Exchange think tank based in London, whose reports often inform government policy in Britain, ranked the top consumers of propaganda produced by the Islamic State, by country of origin, as measured by clicks.
The top consumers of Islamic State videos were from Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Britain, which registered the largest number of clicks in Europe.
There is bad news and less bad news in the report, “The New Netwar,” from scholars led by Martyn Frampton at Queen Mary University of London.
Bad, in the sense that the Islamic State is pumping out more material than ever. Not so bad, in the sense that the numbers of people looking in any one country could be measured in the tens of thousands — and that big Internet companies might be able to limit what is available, should they choose or be forced to do so.
“We are certainly not winning the war online,” the report concludes. “The spate of terrorist attacks the UK suffered in the first half of 2017 confirmed that online extremism is a real and present danger. In each case, online radicalisation played some part in driving the perpetrators to violence. As a society, we are struggling to grasp the extent of the challenge and also appropriate ways of responding. It is clear that the status quo is not working.”
Although the Islamic State is being driven from its territories in Syria and Iraq, the authors say “the movement produces around 100 pieces of new content in an average week (and often much more than that). This adds to an ever-growing archive of material built up over three decades.”
They say the Islamic State has released 2,000 “official” videos.
“This number rises to 6,000 when the wider jihadist movement is included,” the authors say.
The report states that the material is often first disseminated to core followers via the Telegram messaging app, “before being pumped out into the mainstream social media space (via Twitter, Facebook and other leading platforms).”
The authors found that more than 40 percent of the clicks on Islamic State propaganda were referred through Twitter.
The authors say, “For this reason, we argue that more must be done to force jihadist content out of the mainstream.”
Many world leaders have been calling for the big Internet providers and social media giants to find and strip the content from their pages.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron have proposed fining companies that allow the content to remain available through the portals.
The report does not say who is clicking and why. While many of the readers may agree with the material, other consumers might be journalists, security officers, academics and the merely curious.
Former CIA director and U.S. military commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus wrote the foreword to the report and called efforts to combat online extremism “inadequate.”
“Jihadists have shown particular facility in exploiting ungoverned or even inadequately governed spaces in the Islamic world,” Petraeus says. “… They are also exploiting the vast, largely ungoverned spaces in cyberspace, demonstrating increasing technical expertise, sophistication in media production, and agility in the face of various efforts to limit its access.”
Petraeus said the detonation on a London subway carriage last week “merely underscored once again the ever-present nature of this threat.”
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