Virtual round table on misuse of the Internet for terrorist purposes in South/South-East Asia

 

On 1 December 2021, CTED organized a virtual round table on misuse of the Internet for terrorist purposes in South/South-East Asia, with the participation of its Global Research Network (GRN) and civil society partners.

The round table consisted of two sessions focusing on key trends in misuse of the Internet and counter-measures, respectively.

The panellists noted the need to better connect online and offline activities in this area and to examine the issue of terrorism in the context of broader societal and regional problems.

The panellists also discussed the perceived benefits of de-platforming, noting that, although it might offer an effective short-term response, it did not address the continued increase in violent extremist content and also risked further fuelling terrorists’ transition to smaller or decentralized platforms.

During the first session, Ms. Nur Aziemah Azman of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Nanyang Technical University, noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, had reinforced its online narratives to demonstrate resilience, not only through formal messages from the ISIL core and its affiliates, but also through its online networks of supporters (who provided informal promotion and support).

Ms. Munira Mustaffa of the Newlines Institute discussed her research into the growth of terrorism motivated by xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance in South-East Asia, sharing insights into their use of multiple platforms to exploit people’s resentment at the pandemic. Instead of focusing on the binary question of whether behaviour was terrorism or not, Ms. Mustaffa had explored the broad spectrum of ideologies that made up this movement (not all of whose members would pose an immediate risk of violence).

Mr. Quinton Temby of Monash University, Indonesia, also noted the increased use of the online space for terrorist purposes during the pandemic, as well the decentralization of social media. He noted that policymakers should pay attention to innovative uses of online space in that context, highlighting in particular Web3, which enabled individuals and groups to use decentralized, quasi-anonymous platforms to conduct illicit activities. South-East Asia’s young population was already familiar with such platforms, and policy responses should be strengthened. Remittance platforms were also potentially vulnerable to exploitation by violent extremists.

Mr. Kabir Taneja of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, described his analysis of the impact of digitalization in India and noted the need to effectively regulate and address such technologies, as well as to re-visit fundamental questions relating to radicalization and mobilization. Since the onset of the pandemic, some ISIL-affiliated publications linked to India had begun to take a more cross-regional focus, including in relation to Afghanistan.

During the second session, on counter-measures, Mr. Praveen Swami of the Network 18 Group introduced India’s legal framework for taking action against a diverse range of violent groups active in the country, noting the challenges of governing such a diverse society with significant challenges relating to poverty, inequality and identity and stressing that, in order for measures to regulate online activities to be effective, efforts to address offline problems were also required.

Mr. Galen Englund of Love Frankie noted some generalities in online narratives and counter-narratives in the region. Progressive gender norms could be the drivers of resilience and the promotion of tolerance. Strategic communication with civil society organizations would be central to those efforts.