The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, today called for a crackdown on what he described as “terrorvision”, the outpouring of extremist propaganda on the Internet and social media.
But Internet and cyber security experts immediately pointed to the downsides of curbing media in democracies, with one pointing out that cyber inspectors in Germany had deleted the word “idiot” that got classified as terrorist vocabulary.
The army chief and the cyber experts were speaking in different sessions at the “Raisina Dialogues 2018”, the latest edition of a series of strategic conversations involving policy-makers from more than 30 countries. General Rawat was speaking at an open-house session on “The terror state: innovative solutions to new threats”. The other session on “The killer bytes: countering violent extremism” was restricted.
“Who is a terrorist? There is no international definition. But whoever makes illegitimate use of violence is a terrorist. ‘Terrorvision’ is the visibility that terrorists get through the media. In democracies we cannot control media but we need to portray the stories of the victims instead of the terrorists. There has to be curbs, bans on both the political and military fronts of terrorism,” General Rawat said.
He said democratic countries need to take a call on whether to impose curbs on media, particularly social media “at least temporarily so that terrorism can be dealt with in a holistic manner”. Countries that foment terrorism need to be tackled “because we have to realise that terrorism is here to stay unless the world joins hands to end it.”
Social media platform Facebook’s counterterrorism policy manager Brian Fishman, speaking on extremists’ reach out through the Net wondered if “terrorism was worse than child porn”. He said Facebook had a four-point policy on countering extremist posts: preventing them, working with influencers, engaging with law enforcers and engaging with people who will push back extremist propaganda.
“We are very clear. We do not want terrorists on Facebook. We have 180 people around the world to counter terrorism and 93 per cent of terrorist propaganda have been found and taken down by bots or humans. We respond to requests from law enforcement agencies all the time,” he said.
Alexander Klimburg, director at the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) said there were two aspects of tackling terrorism. First, there is the American construct of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and then there is a separate construct to Counter Cyber Terrorism.
There were dangers in going blind with such campaigns. Germany, he said, after recently enacting a law to take-down posts at source within a day or a week had seen social media platforms hiring upto 1000 inspectors. The upshot was that “they also ended up removing the word ‘idiot’”. Idiot was identified as an a word that belonged the language of extremism.