Global summit to focus on using social media to battle extremism

Global summit to focus on using social media to battle extremism

Using social media to formulate a competing narrative against the propaganda of extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will be a key focus of a summit attended by representatives from over 60 countries.

The three-day conference on Countering Violent Extremism, which began yesterday, will include discussions on the conditions that lead marginalised individuals to self-radicalise and join terrorist groups, US administration officials said on Monday.

The conference, which highlights domestic and international efforts to tackle these problems, follows a series of attacks in countries such as Denmark, France and Canada in recent months.

This is the first time that preventive measures are being discussed on a global scale, according to security experts.

The first two days of the summit feature best practices of domestic programmes that address extremism, such as those piloted in Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. On the third day, ministerial-level meetings involving countries such as Singapore, Britain and the United Arab Emirates will be held.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli is leading the Singapore delegation, and meeting officials from the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, as well as Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik Zafar.

The summit builds on US President Barack Obama's call to action at last year's United Nations General Assembly. He is expected to address participants on at least two occasions at the conference.

A significant portion of the meetings will be devoted to the online aspect of the problem as groups such as ISIS have found social media to be a highly effective recruitment tool.

Senior administration officials said there would be presentations by social media partners, such as Google Ideas, on "how to counter the ISIS narrative strategically" and ensure countries are aware of the scope of the problem and how young people are accessing information.

In the US, the Centre for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has coordinated counter- messaging against extremist groups by employing digital specialists fluent in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi and Somali to correct misinformation on the Internet.

They also create messaging that may prompt individuals to reconsider joining extremist groups. One example is an online image showing a young man crying over a coffin. The message reads: "How can slaughtering the innocent be the right path?"

Ms Naureen Chowdhury Fink, head of research and analysis at the Global Centre on Cooperative Security, said that despite all the talk on prevention and countering violent extremism, "disproportionately, the response to terrorism has still been a militarised and law enforcement-centric response".

The summit, she said, highlights other instruments that can help counter violent extremism, and "encourages the US and other countries to expand the nature of their response".

Japan yesterday announced US$15.5 million (S$21 million) in assistance to fight terrorism after ISIS extremists beheaded two of its nationals, Agence France- Presse reported, with details of the aid, double its pledge last month, to be shared during the summit.


This article was first published on Feb 18, 2015.
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