Social media has become the unwitting channel for aiding terrorism

Are you a terrorist aide? Do you help organised killers without realising it? Now you might tweet a silly message or post a picture of yourself in a ‘eat your hearts out’ scenario on Facebook to upset everyone by generating envy for whatever wonderful event occurring in  your life but what that offers, is a common bond you have with a terrorist.

A terrorist usually uses exactly the same global platforms to send out his ‘kill’ message. Could be your message. Yes, it is that scary.

Jean-Paul Laborde, UN assistant secretary general and head of its counter-terrorism Committee, has placed on record that unless Google, Twitter and Microsoft as well as other search engines do not join the counter-terrorism movement the army of militants will grow exponentially.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The direct and dramatic collision course between social media and society’s mayhem is now inevitable.

These extremists have enough geeks to fully exploit the ether.

No wonder the Daesh have almost 30,000 foreign jihadists fighting in war-ravaged Syria and neighbouring Iraq currently.

Laborde has finally articulated the unspoken. Social platforms are antisocial and deadly. Warning that the risk of attacks in these nations was increasing, he indicated that this could be a worldwide threat without any frontiers.

The number of recruitments is open-ended. It could reach 1,00,000 or even increase over the next year. The statement given by the Dhaka killers that they were inspired by a Mumbai-based priest Zakir Naik and his teachings underscore how intimidating the real-time messaging is and the potential it has for creating a global network. In comparison, the logistics for coordinating the landings in Normandy on D Day would have been a thousand times more complex.

The report also suggests that these hired helps are now returning to their own countries and cannot be discounted as a threat. "They are not only going back to Europe but to all of their countries of origin, like Tunisia and Morocco," Laborde told reporters in Geneva.

“As a result, attacks launched by foreign fighters returning to their home countries are likely to increase in ferocity, in retaliation for international military action that is putting them on the back foot,” Laborde warned.

What the world needs to do is speed up its exchange of data. The problem lies in these platforms being unable to differentiate between helping and invading user privacy. Once the floodgates open, they cannot be selective to specific nations and will have to respond to queries about ‘persons of interest’ from ever intelligence agency and government in the world. The error factor would be so high that any common man would come under scrutiny.

But Laborde is emphatic. There is no other way. “If we don’t catch up, we will continue to see a growing number of terrorist acts.”

Logically you and I add our bit to the databases. What we write innocently to friends and family as private opinion is out there for all to see and share. We make huge mistakes. We befriend folks we do not know. We ignore odd messages as SPAM. They stay on our sites. We allow access to ‘prize won’ feeds. Over a period we literally create a cyber file on ourselves leaving our iphones, tablets and computers vulnerable to hacking by elements that mean to generate harm.

This is what the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) says: terrorist organisations and their supporters maintain hundreds of websites, exploiting the unregulated, anonymous, and easily accessible nature of the internet to target an array of messages to a variety of audiences. USIP identifies no fewer than eight different ways in which terrorists are using the internet to advance their cause, ranging from psychological warfare to recruitment, networking to fundraising.

The controllers of these search engines are seemingly helpless. While they might concede giving police agencies data after the fact they are finding it impossible to deal with millions of ‘suspects’ most of whom are clueless about terrorism but would be on the ‘watch’ list.

The eight categories that are mostly exploited by hundreds of militant groups, all of whom are adept at working the internet, include propaganda, publicity, appeal for recruitment and funding, social injustice, data mining, psycho-warfare and networking as well as sharing information of movements and plans.

The world still has the mental image of a guy and an AK 47 atop a hill. That imagery is obsolete.

The problem is becoming urban. The institute report says: Most terrorist sites emphasise two issues – the restrictions placed on freedom of expression and the plight of comrades who are now political prisoners. Their sites are aimed at inciting passion.

You and I, unknowingly, act as conduits for terrorists when we share messages, gory photographs, befriend total strangers, engage in chatting on murky sites, respond to blandishments and often carelessly display hostile comments.

This is the dilemma of the future. Is media the unwitting channel for making terrorism more effective?

Is each one of us on the editorial staff, a potential 6.2 billion people, forwarding information that could be dangerous beyond words.

The answer is yes.

Is there a solution. At the moment, no. Much like the confessional social platforms are duty bound to protect the individual. It is a client/lawyer privilege situation.

What we can do is get a little more careful with our conversations. Make our own roadblocks on the information highway.

Easier said than done.

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2016 14:05:11 IST

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