The Digital Gaps

By Dieter Loraine

Yet again during this COVID pandemic, terrorist and violent extremist organisations have proven adept at using the internet and digital technology to further their aims, reach new audiences and recruit people to commit violent acts. Government policies and responses at all levels have been in a state of constant catch up to ever changing technologies, adaptation and innovation by those who seek to exploit the internet for terrorism and extremism.

We, as practitioners and policy makers, often try to address the terrorist and extremist influencing effort online through a limited number of traditional tools. Extremist organisations have institutionalised innovation as a means to reach, engage, impact and inspire their audiences. The wide-scale adoption of digital technologies due to the COVID pandemic has presented terrorist and extremist organisations, particularly violent right wing extremist (VRWE) groups, with new opportunities to radicalise and recruit. The gap between their use of digital technology to reach their audiences and our use of digital technology to do so and ability to respond has widened.

There have been five possible gaps in responding to the exploitation of the internet and digital technology. These are in: innovation, creative, knowledge, partnership and artificial intelligence. These gaps may not necessarily be new, but are increasingly becoming important to tackle.

1. The innovation gap

Terrorist organisations are fast to adopt and adapt to new platforms, often circumventing regulation and moderation to operate hidden in plain sight, leaving both internet service providers and policy makers playing catch up.

2. The creative gap

Terrorist and extremist organisations are experts at communicating with their audience, deploying the most relevant communication formats, channels and platforms with the latest and best production technology.

3. The knowledge gap

We live in a fast moving digital culture that is constantly evolving. Tracking shifting technology, culture and behaviours is impossible without clear communication and sharing of information, best practice and innovation between practitioners, private sector and government.

4. The partnership gap

There can be a disconnect between the private sector, communities, civil society organisations and government. Even with all the right intentions to collaborate there can be a lack of structure, shared language and frameworks that foster lasting partnerships.

5. The artificial intelligence gap

Terrorist organisations often outpace and outmanoeuvre the response by internet service providers and government in circumventing machine led detection.

By addressing these gaps effectively it is possible to reverse the trend and instead put governments and first-line practitioners ahead of terrorists and extremists and prevent their ability to exploit the internet and digital technology.

To do this, we must be quicker at adopting technology ourselves whilst using the reach and influence of digital technology to engage a creative and innovative response to the threat.

Therefore we must strive to work more closely with the private sector and ensure a better flow of information between them, practitioners and government, in order to improve our understanding and application of new technology and AI and develop creative responses.

Dieter Loraine is Co-Founder of Albany Associates and a member of the International Digital Consulting Service, which helps governments harness the expertise and innovation found in the private sector.  On Twitter @dieterloraine.

This article is republished with permission from the April 2021 edition of Spotlight magazine, ‘Digital Challenges‘. Spotlight is a publication from the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network for RAN’s network of practitioners. Image credit: Unsplash.

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