Friday, March 06, 2009

Recommended Reading: Internet Radicalization by Extremists in Southeast Asia

Most of the time, media and research reports on terrorism, technology and politically motivated computer crime are shallow, to say the least. However, once in a while, a research report surfaces that actually has both the breadth and depth of research to increase our understanding of the phenomena and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in conjunction with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University have just compiled such a report.

Titled "Countering internet radicalisation in Southeast Asia", it looks at terrorist interactions with the Internet in Southeast Asia:
"Although there is a growing body of research on terrorists’ use of the internet in Europe, the Middle East and North America , less attention has been given to the role of the internet in online radicalisation in Southeast Asia and how it affects neighbouring countries, such as Australia."
The paper's forward states the primary area of research - the use of social networks in radicalization:
"Although the internet has become an important tool for tactical operations such as bombings, psychological warfare and fundraising, the focus in this paper is on its use as a tool to radicalise potential supporters.

"This study found that the internet has contributed to radicalisation, will probably grow in regional significance, and might become the dominant factor in radicalisation in the region. And it’s not just passive websites that are important in this context: social networking sites of all kinds, such as blogs and forums, are evolving rapidly.

"This paper discusses several policy approaches to counter the use of the internet for radicalisation in our region. These include blocking sites, creating counternarrative websites to promote tolerance, and intelligence-led methods to tackle the problem."
The study is filled with analysis and case studies. Some of the key points and trends include:
  • The number, technical sophistication and variety of extremist blogs and social networks is increasing and "create a stable network among members of the Bahasa and Malay language online community". Extremist websites increased from 15 in 2007 to 117 in 2008;

  • Blogs and social networks allow localization of radical messages. "Translated materials were once the staple of the Bahasa and Malay language extremist websites, but their online media units are now increasingly producing their own materials to better resonate with the home audience.";

  • While there are several strategies for combating online radicalization, "regional governments and national law enforcement agencies have done little to stop the rise of online radicalisation."
The report provides three broad policies to counter Internet radicalization and discusses the pros and cons of each:
  1. Zero tolerance - where governments ban and block websites, censor Internet traffic, etc.;
  2. Counter messaging - to educate potential recruits and provide alternate points of view;
  3. Intelligence based strategies - "leading to targeting, investigation, disruption and arrest."
Highly recommended reading.

Countering internet radicalisation in Southeast Asia

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