The online Islamic State (Isis) propaganda machine will only be defeated if it can be pushed from public view to the dark web, Google has said.
Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, believes that to “recapture digital territory” from the terror cell, its members must fear being caught when they post messages promoting the organisation’s cause in public.
“Terrorist groups like Isis, they operate in the dark web whether we want them to or not,” Cohen said at a talk on Waging a Digital Counterinsurgency, at Chatham House. “What is new is that they’re operating without being pushed back in the same internet we all enjoyed. So success looks like Isis being contained to the dark web”.
Forcing Isis back into the online shadows would mean that its propaganda will not be spread as easily, Cohen said. He would like to see Isis social media accounts being deleted faster than they can be created, making it harder for people to make contact with Isis recruiters.
As Isis has become more prominent in Syria and Iraq, social media, alongside traditional offline methods, have have been used to spread the group’s messages and recruit members. In 2014 analysis of the group’s online activity showed that they routinely hijack hashtags, use bots, and post gruesome videos to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
The UK’s internet counter terrorism unit claims to remove 1,000 illegal pieces of terrorism related content from the internet each week — it says that roughly 800 of these are to do with Syria and Iraq. The group claims in the 12 months before June 2012 that 39,000 internet takedowns were completed.
Schools have been warned that that a “small minority of users who exploit social media to radicalise and recruit vulnerable people”. Social media networks used to promote Isis’ message have ranged from Instagram to Tumblr and Facebook.
However, Shiraz Maher, a radicalisation researcher from King’s College London who was also speaking at Chatham House event said that these are less prominent now and many UK citizens who are travelling to join Isis in Syria are now using the encrypted Telegram app. The shift can be seen from Telegram removing some public channels that were promoting Isis.
Cohen, who heads up the Google department that is building products to help against oppression, said the “echo chamber” created by hordes of fake social media accounts “shouldn’t be neglected. He said: “The reality is what Isis is doing with technology ranges from communication to spamming, to all sorts of tactics that you’re probably more familiar with fraud and spam and various scams you’ve received in your inbox.”
“To me Isis is not a tech savvy organisation.”
One possible tactic, according Yasmin Green, also of Google Ideas, is to show targeted advertising to those who have been identified as looking at the propaganda.
Green said adverts may be able to “connect, distract, disrupt, and maybe sell a different product” to those with fighting for Isis in their eyes. The approach is also one that has been endorsed by the British government with internet minister Baroness Shields saying tech companies can do more to promote anti-extremist messages on their services.