Defeating online terrorism: Double-edged conundrum

LAST weekend’s riots in Charlottesville may have been encouraged, if only tacitly, by US president Donald Trump’s earlier ambivalence on the fascism alive in some American hearts, but they were made inevitable by the way our digital world eases communication and connects communities, no matter how hateful, by making geography redundant.

The opposite of that, thankfully, is also true. Within hours of the riots, the battle went digital. Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, was closed by its online host. Activists crowdsourced the process of identifying white men filmed beating a black man. The conduit that encouraged America’s nastiest nativists was also used to undo them.

The American fascists were following the example of
Islamic State (IS) who showed how the internet can be exploited to advance the most odious cause. Just as that organisation‘s military capacity is being reduced, its online free run is ending. Researchers at Dublin City University have found that Twitter is now less effective a tool for IS because of the accelerating take-down rate of pro-IS accounts from the site. Twitter’s “substantial and aggressive disruption” means that 65% of the analysed accounts linked to the extremists are
suspended within 70 days of their establishment.

These interventions on behalf of the civilised world are welcome but the bigger question remains unanswered: Who gets to decide what can or cannot have an online existence?


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