14 terrorism plots have been foiled with the help of a special MI5 unit since the Westminster attack of 2017, and MI5 has warned that extremists on the far left and far right are “embracing the veil of anonymity” provided by social media channels, resulting in an “unprecedented threat.”
The Times quoted an MI5 officer, known only as Alex, who explained the power of platforms like Twitter and YouTube: “Social media provides a forum in which people can explore their dark thoughts in the company of like-minded people.”
It has also been reported by The Sun that the bomb-making video used by terrorists who carried out the Manchester Arena attack is back online, highlighting the challenge of keeping dangerous content off digital channels.
Security and counter-terrorism teams already monitor digital platforms closely, as these are known to be used by terrorist groups, and many arrests and foiled plans have resulted from this tracking.
In The News
Just recently, on 22 February, a man was sentenced to four and a half years in jail for encouraging terrorism via his Facebook account, as well as failure to disclose information to the police.
According to Nottinghamshire Live, he had published a “rant” shortly after the Manchester Arena attack and had been posting content in support of Islamic State since 2014. He had also sent letters to convicted terrorists showing his support and had tweeted a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt that supported the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015.
This type of social media activity is said to create “echo chamber” groups who embolden each other to share similar content and statements, which is a potential influence on groups and individuals. It’s also one of the reasons the latest statistics in the Global Terrorism Index 2018 show a decrease in centralised planning and in increase in attacks and attempted attacks, by individuals and small groups in Western Europe.
Another sentencing on 22 February saw a 32-year-old man jailed for “Offences relating to the collection of terrorist information, likely to be useful to a person preparing for or committing an act of terrorism.” He was found with a collection of ISIS magazines on his mobile phone which encouraged acts of terrorism and explained how to go about carrying out an attack.
What Should We Do?
Social media and the digital environment are here to stay, but we can be vigilant when we’re online and report anything suspicious. We can also avoid having anything to do with potentially terrorism-related content such as videos about making weapons or explosives.
It’s unlikely that you’ll find extremist content in general searches or on your friends’ social media pages, and it’s not a good idea to go looking for it – even just as a matter of interest.
Counter-terrorism policing currently has a “three click rule” which means a suspect has to click on terrorism-related material three times before it becomes an offence. A new Bill has been put through (and gained Royal Assent last week, according to Broadband Deals’ blog), which will do away with that rule. “So technically anyone who clicked on a link to material deemed terrorist in nature could fall foul of the law, which includes up to 15 years in prison.”
The Lancashire Telegraph advises that, “Anyone who sees extremist content online can report their concerns anonymously to specialist officers at the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit at www.gov.uk/report-terrorism“
Social media and the internet in general can play a positive or negative role in so many aspects of our lives, and we’re as committed as ever to increasing the positive impact by using it to help make every journey safer.