Professor Peter Neumann shared his findings about online radicalization with a group of key stakeholders including United Nations member states, the private sector, and security experts at a recent lunchtime roundtable hosted by CGCC. Professor Neumann is member of the CGCC’s Advisory Council, a professor of Security Studies at King’s College London, and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. According to Dr. Neumann, the sense of anonymity granted by the internet lowers the threshold for engagement with illicit and risky material such as extremist forums or content. Moreover, the internet creates a virtual community and a social environment in which like-minded users can block out diverse perspectives, thereby normalizing extremist views and creating a sense of empowerment and participation. Now more than ever, the internet has freed such communities from physical boundaries and allowed internet users to join groups and networks in other countries and regions, further facilitating their disengagement from their local social networks that may have forced them to engage with diverse groups and perspectives.
During the interactive discussion a number of key issues were raised, including the challenge of balancing the need for surveillance and monitoring with privacy and human rights principles, the benefit of taking down extremist content and sites versus monitoring their usage and users to develop better intelligence, and how policymakers can respond to these technical and security challenges in developing legal and political responses. In response, Professor Neumann pointed out that it was nearly impossible to effectively take down internet sites and that there was sufficient open-source data available online that did not require intrusive surveillance. “Twitter is a public content site, and unless you’re smart enough to turn off your phone’s GPS, every tweet reveals its tweeter’s location.” Rather than censoring internet content, and deleting content from the internet, Professor Neumann recommended that governments and law enforcement officials monitor these sites, and use them as intelligence resources.