Should Terror Be Fought Online?

An increasing number of countries are calling for the establishment of cyber defense agencies as the key to combating terrorism, as militant groups increasingly use technology and the Internet not only to spread propaganda but also to recruit and train new members. As militant groups effectively use the Internet and social media for propaganda, training and recruitment as well as for logistics and funding sources, many claim that this new, modern cyber terrain should be where the fight against it will take place.

The US government recognized the importance of engaging in the cyber battle. “We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online,” President Obama said in February. But so far, there’s little doubt that ISIS is winning on the social media front.

It’s not just the US that sees the significance in the cyber war on terrorism. In Pakistan, the authorities are posting videos of Islamic extremists are blowing up mosques in an effort to show that such attacks kill fellow Muslims.

In Indonesia, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has called for the establishment of a cyber defense agency as the key to combating terrorism.

In Saudi Arabia, a government-supported program has enlisted hundreds of Islamic scholars turned bloggers to fight online radicalization by challenging the interpretations of the Koran posted on extremist social networking forums.

Some, however, question the urgency of setting up an agency that would block radical sites and social media accounts given that members of militant groups rarely relied on the Internet, claiming that although it does serve as platform for propaganda, resources should be directed towards the physical infrastructure of terror organizations.

Either way, some thought should perhaps be put into the concepts guiding terrorism’s propaganda rather than the terrain it is carried on. Understanding its foundations and agenda clearly, creating a proactive approach, could maybe serve the West better than simply reacting to threats and debating over it endlessly.