Legal Aspects of Social Media Extremism

social media iconsThe Program on Extremism at the George Washington University (GW) released additional papers on Online Violent Extremism as a part of the Legal Perspectives on Tech Series, commissioned in conjunction with the Congressional Counterterrorism Caucus. According to GW, the Program “provides analysis on issues related to violent and non-violent extremism.” In this series, authors aim to analyze the dark side of social media that provides convenient digital platforms for hate speech and extremist material dissemination. In particular, the current research turns towards the legal frameworks both in the United States and abroad, while addressing the urgent need for new legislation aimed to curb illegal online activity.

The particular topics covered in this series include questions on the online content management, the responsibility of tech companies to provide internal controls, the complexity of criminalizing online activity, and audience vulnerability to propaganda and disinformation. As Stuart Macdonald suggests in his paper, “the importance of the rule of law to an effective counterterrorism strategy is widely accepted.” However, as this series uncovers, the applicable regulations are either lacking or, alternatively, are going too far resulting in inadvertent backlash and opinion polarization.

Many issues surrounding the illicit use of social media platforms arise from the inherent efficiencies of digitally-enabled social activism. However, as emphasized by Anjana Susarla, it can also “push individuals towards extreme content where it can end up radicalizing individuals.” Consequently, content moderation efforts often have to address “the underlying psychological and sociological factors at play,” as stated by J.D. Maddox. Significantly, as Jeff Breinholt observes, the complexity of domestic and international legal systems often creates significant roadblocks to aligning criminal intent with appropriate and effective prosecution. Since it is unlikely that extremists can be “driven off the internet entirely,” according to Jordy Krasenberg, it is necessary to address specific policy and legislative steps to improve the current solutions to extreme content. Furthermore, Alexander Ritzmann suggests solutions outside of the legal framework, including providing incentives for tech companies to allocate resources towards effective self-policing.

Ultimately, the papers emphasize the importance of combining efforts across all stakeholders, both from public and private sector. As Nina Jankowicz points out:

“Across sectors, there is an acknowledgement of the threat; an acknowledgement of the role social media plays in perpetuating it; and an acknowledgement that only through cooperation across sectoral lines can it be addressed.”

Please visit HSDL blog to view our recent post on earlier publications in the Legal Perspectives on Tech Series. For more information, visit the HSDL Featured Topics on Active ShootersCyber Crime and National SecurityCyber PolicyDomestic (U.S.) TerrorismGlobal Terrorism, and Lone Wolf Terrorism, Please note that an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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