Page last updated at 06:00 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Online extremism tactics 'crude'

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Hammaad Munshi
Hammaad Munshi: Internet played role in his conviction

Strategies to combat online extremism can be crude, expensive and counter-productive, says a report by experts.

The study by radicalisation thinkers warns that governments miss the point if they just close down websites.

The team based at Kings College London says "self-radicalisation... via the internet with little or no relation to the outside world rarely happens".

It argues governments must see the internet not as a threat but as an opportunity to combat extremism.

Last year the home secretary called for more action to remove extremist material from the internet.

'Technical focus'

The internet has increasingly concerned security officials around the world over the past decade as they have seen it used for disseminating extreme messages, such as racial hatred or calls to terrorism, or to glorify acts of terrorism, such as videos of killings in Iraq.

"Most governments have focused on technical solutions, believing that removing or blocking radicalising material on the internet will solve the problem," says the study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.

"Yet, this report shows that any strategy that relies on reducing the availability of content alone is bound to be crude, expensive and counter-productive.

"Radicalisation is a real-world phenomenon that cannot be dealt with simply by 'pulling the plug'.

"Self-radicalisation and self-recruitment via the internet with little or no relation to the outside world rarely happens, and there is no reason to suppose that this situation will change in the near future.

"The internet can support and facilitate but never completely replace direct human contact and the ties of friendship and kinship through which intense personal loyalties form."

The report says official strategies for countering online extremism must create an environment in which the production and consumption of such material becomes not just more difficult in a technical sense, but unacceptable as well as less desirable.

'Independent fund'

Policies must deal with the most dangerous or offensive websites, but they should also go further and be more sophisticated, it says.

An independent "internet-users panel" could strengthen self-regulation by holding to account the companies providing web space.

The report says too little attention is being given to "user-generated" extremist material, posted on social media websites, and that its appeal could be reduced through education.

And it says that overt government sponsorship of initiatives can become the "kiss of death".

These efforts should be replaced by an independent fund to ensure that projects avoid being seen as controlled by government, it says.



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