Social Media as a vector for Jihadists Can Sri Lankan law combat terror in internet?

23 May 2019 01:42 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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“Twitter and Facebook “should not be playing footage of murder” (Australian Parliament) Both New Zealand and Australia passed the sweeping sharing Abhorrent Material Bill that threatens huge fines for social media companies and jail time for their executives if they don’t promptly remove “abhorrent violent material” from their platforms (Liza Vaas, 2019). Against this back drop, it is an urgent need to analyze whether the Laws of Sri Lanka are sufficient to control terrorism in social media.   

Analyzing history, social media has played an essential role in the jihadists’ operational strategy in Syria and Iraq, and beyond. Twitter in particular has been used to drive communications over other social media platforms (Tweeting Jihad, 2015). The focus in the terrorism literature on the theatre of terrorist spectaculars overshadows the reality that terrorists also use the Internet for the same reasons everybody else does; for organization and planning, proselytizing and entertainment, and to educate the believers. In fact, most of the online communication of terrorists is mundane to the point of appearing innocuous.   


  • Is that on social-media platforms all content looks more or less the same
  • This new media environment in Sri Lanka is also resistant to policing
  • Sri Lanka has to establish new laws to protect against the misuse of the communication networks that have emerged in the digital age

Social media freed of Al -Qaeda from the dependency on mainstream media, Started in 2011, many Jihadi groups, media outlets, and individuals moved on to mainstream social media platforms and created new accounts on Twitter and Facebook (Mathieu Deflem, 2003). Most groups’ media outlets still post their content to Jihadi forums but will simultaneously create sponsored Twitter accounts where they release new statements or videos. In the new lateral social media, environment control over content is de-centralized which anyone can participate in. Distribution is decentralized via “hubs” and volunteers use mainstream interactive and inter-connected social media platforms, blogs, and file sharing platforms. Cross-posting and re-tweeting content on social media by volunteers is a low-cost means of dissemination to wide audiences.   

This new media environment in Sri Lanka is also resistant to policing. Control practices that worked in the framework of vertically controlled Internet environment do not work in the new environment of social networking and micro-blogging.   

Twitter now connects ISIS operating in multiple theatres of warfare and connects them with tactical support groups outside the combat zone, eliminating geographical constraints. As an example, Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi who appeared as a political leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) and the levant militant terrorist organization has 131,000 followers in twitter. Likewise these extremist Islamic political leaders use you tube, Facebook, Instagram as vectors for their political propaganda.   

To sum up, propaganda has always been central to terrorism. Terrorists prefer tight control of the message but lacking directly control of mass media—print or television—have in the past relied on compelling mainstream media into doing the communication by means of the staging of attacks. Social media have changed the dynamic fundamentally. It has eliminated the terrorists’ dependency on mainstream media, reversing the relationship by making mainstream media dependent on the jihadist-run social media.   

Why do terrorists use social media?

Terrorists have always adapted new technologies to their purposes, and social media are no exception. Indeed, social media have proved particularly well-suited for terrorist propagandizing and recruiting for several reasons.   

First, social media enable terrorists to communicate radicalizing messages to a far wider circle of potential adherents than they could have reached with traditional media. Secondly, radicalization required personal contact with someone who could provide materials, ideological grooming, and connections to wider jihadist networks. Decades ago, when the global jihadist movement was in its infancy, the followers of radical clerics circulated their sermons on audiotapes, reproduced one at a time and passed from one follower to another (Arquellia, 2013). At the present its free, easy and fast.   

Osama was desperate to reach a wider audience from his bases in Sudan and Afghanistan, he faxed his diatribes and fatwas to media outlets in London (Deependra Chhetri , 2018). Today, social-media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube offer the ability to instantaneously convey one’s message to users around the world, often in the form of captivating images or video.   

Another salient feature of social media, less obvious but highly relevant for terrorists, is that on social-media platforms all content looks more or less the same. With modest exceptions (Twitter’s blue check mark, for example), content posted to a social-media platform by a veteran investigative journalist bears the same visual indicia of reliability as content posted by a fringe conspiracy theorist. On social media, there are no editorial gatekeepers, nor is cost a barrier to entry   

Not only this, on Twitter they have created an app called the ‘Dawn of Glad Tidings’ that users can download and keep up to date on news about ISIS and many users around the world have signed up to support them (Ajbaili, 2014) and this online support has become one of the major factors in the radicalization of youth. Therefore, strict Laws, regulations and artificial intelligence are needed in Sri Lanka to restrain this problem.   

Law enforcement agencies need to become vigilant of an incident of digital crime in a timely fashion in order to enforce the laws

How should the government address this problem?

Counter-Messaging   
Governments were initially caught off guard by the ISIS’s sophisticated social-media campaign, but they quickly began to contest this virtual terrain. One element of governments’ response has been counter-messaging: attempting to refute or undercut the messages propagated by terrorist groups and their sympathizers.   

Strategic Counter Terrorism Communications   

In USA, in the wake of the ISIS’s blistering ascent, the State Department’s Centre for Strategic Counter terrorism Communications (CSCC) began to aggressively challenge ISIS and its sympathizers and amplifiers on social media. The centre’s aim, explained then-head Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, was “not to make people love the U.S.,” but “to make al-Qaeda look bad.”(Ananda,2010). 

Theological discussions   

As the Associated Press put it, “Engaging in theological discussions on social media with Islamic people who are well versed in the Quran has become another strategy which has been used by other countries. This speaks to a broader challenge in post efforts to counter Islamist ideology:   

Break language barriers   

Epistemic limitations are problematic for counter-messaging operations that take place on social media. Verbal combat on Twitter calls for the quick stings of a yellow jacket, not the cautiously aimed salvos of an artillerist. There is no time to pause to consult an expert. Since the volume of jihadist messages is so huge, it takes a swarm of yellow jackets, not just a few. 

Yet precious few people have the cultural, linguistic, and religious fluency to beat a jihadist sympathizer on these terms. Ideally, these few would have been recruited into higher-value intelligence and counter terrorism work than tweeting snark at jihadist fan-boys.   

Exploit the negligent behaviour of ISIS   

In contrast to Al Qaeda, ISIS has been less concerned with building support and consent among Muslim populations. As terrorism expert William McCants explained, ISIS’s strategy is to use fear and violence to cow populations, not to win hearts and minds. (Deflem 2018) For that reason, highlighting ISIS’s violence against other Muslims, as the State Department did in YouTube videos like “Welcome to ISIS Land,” did not necessarily undermine the Islamic State’s message among its target audiences: young men, whom it hoped to recruit, and local populations, whom it hoped to intimidate.   

Removing Jihadist messages alternatively from social media   

Removing terrorist content from social-media platforms is one of the most effective methods to curb terrorist content. “European countries’ constitutions give them substantial latitude to prohibit speech where doing so advances social cohesion. Germany and France also used prohibitions against “hate speech” or “incitement” to criminalize speech that maligns recent immigrants or religious or ethnic minorities. Given these more permissive constitutional frameworks, European nations have more latitude than the United States in mandating that social-media platforms remove jihadist.   

Therefore, Sri Lankan legislature has to fill these gaps in Law in order to prevent Terrorist Content in Social Media.   

Sri Lankan laws to curb cyber terrorism

Even though Computer Crimes Act covers some areas of computer crime, the gaps in data privacy, Data misuse, Hate speech by social Media, Cyber bullying, Cyber stalking, etc. mush be filled by the legislature as soon as possible.   

Apart from that, Sri Lanka has to establish new laws to protect against the misuse of the communication networks that have emerged in the digital age. Therefore laws shall be strict that are meant to curb the production, distribution, and use of violent content. These laws are also meant to protect the people who might have been abused in the process of creating specific images. The key purpose of the laws that have emerged with the growth of the Internet is to protect information.   

Sri Lanka should have proper digital Security which protects general public who could be involved with the information. Law enforcement agencies must develop specific strategies to help uphold these laws. Enforcing The new social media laws, establishing laws is the first step toward tackling digital terrorism, but trained police forces must then enforce the laws that have been established. As discussed earlier in the section on police forces, there are some specific challenges associated with the enforcement process. In addition to the problems with police cooperation, the differences between national laws also pose challenges. Even if laws and policing can be worked out, other challenges remain.   

Law enforcement agencies need to become vigilant of an incident of digital crime in a timely fashion in order to enforce the laws. Often, digital terrorism can go undetected for a long time. By the time the crime is reported, the criminal could have disappeared out of reach of law enforcement. Proper enforcement of digital crime requires cooperation from the victims, because law enforcement agencies need to have information about a crime as soon as possible in order to apprehend the criminal.   

Therefore, the laws shall be harmonized to address this issue in order to combat terrorism in cyber space and also cyber terrorism.   

Suggestions 

1. Enable the e-Safety Commission to issue a written notice or take legal action against the platform operators who publish abhorrent violent material.   
2. Given the serious consequences of being found liable under the new offences, draft content moderation policies to reflect the new legislation and consider deploying additional technical solutions or allocating additional resources so as to ensure compliance.   
3. Monitor the extent to which and how the legislation is enforced and participate in any future review or other law reform processes.   
4. Regulate social media.   
5. Penalties should be brought against Hate speech and the amendments should be brought to the penal code. 

The writer is a Legal Consultant, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law, International Commercial Arbitration, Cyber Law, International Human Resources Management, Company Law, International Finance, International Trade Law ( NSBM, ICBT, SLIIT, Plymouth (UK), London Metropolitan University (UK), Attorney-at-Law, Senior Counsel, Arbitrator & Senior Partner .

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  Comments - 1

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  • Dr. Sellathurai Seruban Thursday, 23 May 2019 01:34 PM

    A timely article. I think the relevant authorities should explore the suggestion made by the writer. Keep on writing my friend


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