A War of Keywords: How Extremists Are Exploiting the Internet and What to Do About It
2 min read
Posted on: 28th July 2016
When Donald Trump suggested he would build a wall on the Mexican border, Hillary Clinton retorted, “How high does a wall need to be to keep out the internet?” Today, radicalisation takes place in bedrooms, in libraries, on mobile phones. Connectivity and globalisation cannot be stopped – nor should they. But how can we stop the oncoming traffic of internet radicalisation?
The emergence of ISIS and its use of the internet for recruitment and propaganda has been a stark reminder of how the web can be a platform for dangerous ideas. Time and again, we have seen how radical thinking online has violently manifested itself in the offline world.
To grasp the scale of this challenge, and to be adequately placed to combat it, we need to diagnose the extent of Islamist extremist material on the internet.
A wide range of extremist content is available online. This study found a broad array of extremist content on websites, including violent and non-violent publications. Extremist views on sectarianism, apostasy, and conspiratorial attitudes towards the West – ideas that permeate much of ISIS' output – feature on mainstream Islamic websites. We found that, of the extremist content accessible through these specific keyword searches, 44 per cent was violent, 36 per cent was non-violent, and 20 per cent was political Islamist content, i.e. non-violent content propagated by, or in support of, a known Islamist group with political ambitions.
Web searches are a gateway to violent extremist content. The average, interested internet user requires nothing more than a simple Google search to gain access to extremist publications from groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Whether through analysis sites or otherwise, jihadi content is accessible via Google, without the need for social media. From our sample, we found there are on average in the region of more than 484,000 Google searches globally, and at least 54,000 searches in the UK alone, each month for keywords that return results dominated by extremist material. While a wide range of people may have conducted some of these searches, including journalists, researchers, and students, the risk posed by the prevalence of extremist content in these search results is of concern.
Counter-narratives are lagging, but Muslim efforts dominate. Counter-narrative efforts are not challenging the extremist content found in seach engine results pages, with efforts appearing in only 43 of the 870 results analysed, just five per cent of the total. However, of the counter-narratives identified, 91 per cent were Muslim-led. This highlights the efforts taken by Muslims to address the rising tide of extremist ideology online. It is estimated that close to three billion people have access to the internet around the globe, a number expected to swell to more than seven billion by 2020. The need to address the issue and safeguard internet users has never been more pressing.