News and Updates from the Counter Extremism Project
Tech and Terrorism
New Study: YouTube’s Ongoing Failure to Remove ISIS Content
CEP published a study that found that YouTube’s process for identifying and removing terrorist content is failing, and the company is not fulfilling its promise to take action against accounts that repeatedly violate their terms of service. Released on July 24, the results of the study call into question YouTube’s claims of being able to remove ISIS videos quickly and effectively, especially given that 91% of ISIS propaganda videos were uploaded more than once and 60% of accounts remained active even after videos had been removed for violating YouTube’s policies. Media coverage: Scientific American, Daily Mail, The Sun, Arab Weekly, The Hill
Dr. Hany Farid: “Recruiting Terrorists: We’re Losing The Fight Against Online Extremism – Here’s Why”
CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid, the world’s foremost authority on digital forensics, discusses the importance of using the right metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts by tech companies to combat extremism: “Measuring the efficacy of countering online extremism by the number of take-downs and the time to take-down does not tell the complete story. We should measure efficacy by how many views violent or radicalizing content garners, how many times it is uploaded and allowed to remain on-line, and how aggressively accounts are removed after clear violations. ISIS material, similar to other types of propaganda, is posted in order to influence opinions and actions. A larger audience raises the possibility that someone may commit an act of terrorism. Setting standards for removal time periods is a good first step, but lawmakers should also consider regulating and potentially fining companies based on highly viewed terrorist material and inaction in removing accounts that repeatedly upload banned content.”
Google’s Pro-Free Speech Rhetoric Proves Once Again to be False
CEP Executive Director David Ibsen said the following in response to the news that Google plans to relaunch a censored version of its search engine in China, which contradicted Google’s previous statements in support of free speech: “Google’s plans for launching a censored search engine in China demonstrates that the tech giant, once again, is not interested in protecting free speech or free expression—only market share. For over a year, we have heard Google tout their counter-extremism efforts as well as their support for the First Amendment. However, Google’s latest proposal to enter the Chinese market will hopefully put an end to a roadshow of Google representatives citing openness and freedom of speech and expression as justifications for their unwillingness or inability to remove extremist content from their platforms.”
CEP Report Finds Users Over 3x More Likely to Encounter Extremist Material Than Counter-Narratives on YouTube Despite Redirect Program
CEP’s report, “OK Google, Show Me Extremism: Analysis of YouTube’s Extremist Video Takedown Policy and Counter-Narrative Program,” highlights the enduring problem of terrorist content on YouTube and determines the veracity of Google’s claims touting the efficacy of the company’s efforts to combat online extremism. Google’s efforts to promote counter-narrative content appear to be inconsistent and insufficient. CEP found only 15 videos (2.1 percent of the 710 videos checked) that may include counter-narrative messaging. Media coverage: CBS News, New Europe
CEP Report Reveals How ISIS Supporters are Organizing on Facebook
The CEP report, Spiders of the Caliphate: Mapping the Islamic State’s Global Support Network on Facebook, details how ISIS followers continue to exploit Facebook. The report lays out how ISIS supporters avoid detection by using Facebook Live to host meetings and linking to banned material in comments, tricks that avoid Facebook’s automated flagging tools. Even worse, the report exposes how Facebook’s algorithmically-powered “recommended friends” feature is helping connect disparate groups of ISIS supporters across the globe. Media coverage: Telegraph, CBS News, Vice News, Gizmodo, New York Post
Blog: Tracking Facebook’s Policy Changes
CEP chronicles more than a decade of Facebook incidents, ranging from the publication of inappropriate content to user privacy and safety, and the policy changes implemented after damage had already been done. There is no excuse as to why so many policy changes have been reactionary, and it raises the question as to what other scandals are in the making due to still-undiscovered lapses in Facebook’s policies.
Blog: DIY Terror on Telegram
On July 8, 2018, a pro-ISIS channel called “Lethal Dose” surfaced on Telegram, the popular encrypted messaging app used by terrorists to recruit, communicate, and facilitate attacks. The channel featured step-by-step tutorials on how to make various toxins, ranging from cyanide to an anesthetic extracted from banana peels. This channel and others like it provide prospective jihadists with easy access to wide range of DIY options for a potential attack, and despite repeated deletions, their content is simply saved and regularly re-uploaded. Although ISIS has lost significant ground, its ability to reach out online and facilitate lone wolf attacks remains a threat.
Hezbollah in South America
Terrorists and Criminals Reap More Than $43 Billion a Year from Tri-Border Area
Terrorists and criminals pocket up to $43 billion a year of $800 million a week from illegal activities in the rugged area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, according to a reportreleased by CEP and Asymmetrica. The report found that what is commonly known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA) has grown into a mini-state where money laundering and cigarette smuggling that benefit the terrorist group Hezbollah are common. “Hezbollah’s presence and economic activities in the TBA must be curtailed and halted,” said CEP Hezbollah expert David Daoud. “The group currently runs one of the largest cigarette smuggling operation in the Western Hemisphere. By tolerating this illicit activity, we are allowing Hezbollah to continue to operations, and plotting and executing further attacks.” Report launch in Washington, DC: video. Media coverage: Wall Street Journal
Blog: Iranian Influence in South America
In October 2014, Lebanese citizen and Hezbollah operative Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar was arrested in Lima, Peru. This was not Hezbollah’s first attempt to carry out an attack in South America. Both the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group and the Iranian regime itself were linked to two major attacks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1990s. Investigations into those events quickly led back to several Hezbollah members residing in the Tri-Border Area. However, the attacks were also possible due to extensive Iranian infiltration of the South American continent that has come to light in recent years and continues today.
White Supremacy Groups in America
White supremacist and white nationalist groups in the United States are numerous and varied. While traditional groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood promote blatant racism and violence, more recently established organizations such as the League of the South and Identity Evropa attempt to advance white nationalism as a legitimate ideology that belongs in mainstream political and academic spheres. CEP’s report, Guide to White Supremacy Groups profiles some of the most virulent white supremacist groups in the United States, demonstrating the diversity of white supremacist rhetoric and tactics promoting the rejection of non-white cultures.
Updated CEP World Map Profiles Extremism and Counter-Extremism in 55 Countries
CEP released new resources on extremism and counter-extremism efforts around the world, and expanded the number of countries profiled in its interactive map to 55. New country profiles included Angola, Argentina, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, India, Ireland, Pakist
The Times: “Antisemetic hate posts allowed by Facebook”
“Antisemitic posts claiming that the Holocaust is a lie and that Jews are ‘barbaric and unsanitary’ remain on Facebook despite being flagged to the social media company, an investigation by The Times has found… David Ibsen, executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, said: ‘Facebook not only allows Holocaust deniers and antisemitism to continue to be freely available online but Mr Zuckerberg is using freedom of expression as his excuse. These antisemitic views are against Facebook’s own community guidelines. We urge Facebook to take meaningful and urgent action to ensure their platform is not used for encouraging violent and illegal activity like this.’”
Sir Ivor Roberts: “Qatari hostage payment is terrorist financing”
CEP Advisor Sir Ivor Roberts argues that Qatar’s payment of close to $1 billion to free members of the royal family was a payment to terrorists: “The payment was ostensibly made to set hostages free but make no mistake: this was terrorist financing plain and simple. It was a direct transfer of funds knowingly made to support the activities of some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. Kata’ib Hezbollah collaborates with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, and with Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Some of the funds made their way to a number of other terrorist groups, including the infamous al-Nusra Front. Qatar’s support for these groups is doubly dangerous given the circumstances under which it was given.”
Irish Tech News: “Teenage Tech Outreach Programme Launched by Digital DNA”
“An innovative and ambitious programme for young people interested in technology and the digital world has been launched… The Digital Futures programme is principally supported by the Counter Extremism Project in New York, as well as being supported by the Housing Executive and Belfast City Council.”
CBC Radio One: The Threat of “DeepFakes”
CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid discusses “DeepFakes” and the ability of modern computer technology to create compelling fake video, images, or audio recordings.