29 April 2020 – The United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) published a new Analytical Brief on “Countering Terrorist Narratives Online and Offline.” Terrorist narratives are designed to achieve multiple strategic communications objectives and target several types of audience, which range from those unaware of the underlying terrorist ideology to devout ideological adherents seeking avenues for engagement in violent activity.
Terrorists have continued to use both large and small Internet platforms to spread propaganda and maximize the online virality of their attacks, with a quantitative analysis of more than 45,000 URLs across more than 330 platforms showing that half of the top 50 platforms used by ISIL since 2014 were small and micro platforms. As a consequence, Member States have been forced to expand their efforts to combat terrorist communications beyond merely blocking or removing online terrorist propaganda and have increasingly emphasized countering terrorist narratives.
In May 2017, the Security Council adopted its resolution 2354 (2017), which welcomed the Counter-Terrorism Committee’s “Comprehensive International Framework to Counter Terrorist Narratives.” In accordance with the Framework, Member States and other stakeholders should not only emphasize terrorists’ inhumanity and the flaws in their arguments, but also develop positive or alternative narratives that promote a holistic worldview and encourage non-violent pathways to address grievances and feelings of powerlessness and alienation.
CTED’s analysis has found that many government programmes do not sufficiently take into account audience perceptions of their credibility. In these cases, audiences may dismiss the counter-narratives altogether, particularly in States where human rights are violated in the context of countering terrorism or where government actions are not matched by words, thereby leading to a decline in credibility and trust.
Even though terrorist groups themselves use tailored, gendered messaging to appeal to men and women, few counter-narrative programmes include a gender perspective. Counter-narrative efforts have not been equally skillful at tapping into gender dynamics or addressing gendered needs.
As with all counter-terrorism measures, it is essential to ensure that government counter-narrative strategies are consistent with their obligations pursuant to international human rights law. Measures aimed at censoring or removing online content must comply with the right to freedom of expression. All measures, including those taken offline, must ensure respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, conscience, religion and related rights.
The present Analytical Brief was prepared by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) in accordance with Security Council resolution 2395 (2017), which directs CTED to conduct analytical work on emerging issues, trends and developments and to make its analytical products available throughout the United Nations system.
CTED Analytical Briefs aim to provide the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, United Nations agencies, and policymakers with a concise analysis of specific issues, trends or developments, as identified through CTED’s engagement with Member States on their implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Analytical Briefs also include relevant data gathered by CTED, including through engagement with its United Nations partners; international, regional and subregional organizations; civil society organizations; and members of the CTED Global Research Network (GRN).
 The present Analytical Brief has been prepared in support of S/RES/2354 (2017), which directs the Counter-Terrorism Committee to, inter alia, identify and compile existing good practices in countering terrorist narratives and contribute to United Nations efforts to develop models for effectively countering terrorist narratives, both online and offline, and as a follow-up to the open meeting of the Committee on “Countering terrorist narratives and preventing the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes”, held at United Nations Headquarters, New York, on 28 January 2020.