There seems to be little disagreement between the parties on the fact that Islamic radicalization and attacks on our own soil are a bad thing. That’s a relief, given the current political climate where agreement on anything frequently seems as common as unicorns and elves. We also seem to jointly recognize that ISIS is devastatingly effective at managing social media and using the internet as a powerful recruiting tool around the technologically connected world. So what, if anything, should be done about it?
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP), described as a “nonpartisan policy group” in their promotional literature, thinks they have the solution. They’re developing web based tools which purport to seek out and allow the removal of any terrorist related images, videos and other content which might be used as recruiting tools for Islamist terror groups. If you’re already feeling a chill wind blowing from that brief description you’re not alone, but the White House seems to be all too ready to get onboard. (Washington Post)
“If you could search out the beheading videos, or the picture of the ISIS fighter all in black carrying the Daesh flag across the sands of Syria, if you could do it with video and audio, you’d be doing something big,” said Mark Wallace, chief executive of the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a nonpartisan policy group. “I believe it’s a game-changer.”
The White House has signaled its support. “We welcome the launch of initiatives such as the Counter Extremism Project’s National Office for Reporting Extremism (NORex) that enables companies to address terrorist activity on their platforms and better respond to the threat posed by terrorists’ activities online,” said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.
The existence of detection tools such as the ones being proposed here isn’t a problem at all. In fact, it could serve as a very useful tool for law enforcement. The problems come on a number of levels when we talk about simply rooting out and destroying any such pictures and videos. Just from the perspective of the media, what will happen to informative coverage of the terrorist threat if photos and YouTube videos of ISIS on the march suddenly disappear? While many are indeed horrific to see and merit cautions for more sensitive, easily disturbed viewers before being displayed, they serve to educate the public as to the threat we’re facing. It’s unpleasant to see images of captives in steel cages hung over firewood who are about to be burned alive, but that’s the reality of the animals we’re at war with currently. (My apologies to furry, feathered or scaly animals around the world for the unfair comparison.)
When we find the actual terrorists using the web as a recruiting tool it’s obviously worth considering the option of just shutting them down. Yet even that is a controversial move among intelligence specialists who often use those social media connections as tools to root out the bad guys. But when we veer off into the realm of simply wiping out ISIS images from news sites, blogs or the social media accounts of people concerned about the threat, the discussion has taken a decidedly darker turn.
So why would the White House be endorsing something like this? If it’s only to benefit law enforcement and intelligence efforts, that’s fine, but this seems to be casting a much wider net. We’ve already seen the Obama administration’s reluctance to mention the name of the threat we face and to downplay terrorism in favor of politically popular domestic issues. It would be unfortunate if they were supporting a plan which would wipe out the online record of the terrorists because they find it too unpleasant or electorally damaging to discuss.