Cyber expert: Don't remove posts, make a terror-proof Facebook

University of Haifa's Prof. Gabriel Weimann says merely removing terrorists’ online content does not work.

March 28, 2018 06:22
2 minute read.
Cyber expert: Don't remove posts, make a terror-proof Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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In the long-term battle over social media, making the “next Facebook” terrorist proof is far more important than removing terrorists’ current posts, Prof. Gabriel Weimann told The Jerusalem Post in an interview this week.

Weimann’s book Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation analyzes content from more than 9,800 terrorist websites, selecting the most important kinds of web activity; describing their background and history; and surveying their content, the groups and individuals involved, and their impact.

Speaking to the Post by telephone during a speaking tour in Chicago, the University of Haifa academic said merely removing terrorists’ online content does not work. “They reemerge. They repost it. It’s an endless war. But there are other measures we can take.”
Advertisers pressure Facebook after data breach, March 22, 2018 (Reuters)

What are the other measures?

In the last year or so, some social media giants, like Facebook, have launched counter campaigns on social media to try to compete more fluidly in the marketplace of social media ideas.

Weimann does support this as one tactic. “We can launch counter campaigns. We can be proactive in the sense of targeting the same subpopulations terrorists target. But instead of launching campaigns of death, suicide and doom, we can send different messages.”

He said that if ISIS is targeting a specific Muslim population in a particular Western country, their messages can be combated by posting videos of interviews with disillusioned ex-ISIS members who describe the real horror that they experienced with ISIS.

But, he added that, “when you fight terrorists online, there is no simple measure. You need multitasking efforts. You need a combination of several measures at the same time. Trying to press Facebook, Twitter and Google to address content and prevent terrorists from appearing is helpful, but to a small extent.”

Going beyond both content removal and counter-content campaigns, he said that first one needs to carefully study the terrorists’ social media content and behavior.

“It’s very important to know that this material is a window into the minds of terrorists,” Weimann said. “We can learn a lot about them: Who are they targeting? What are the motives they use? What are their grievances? What are the appeals they use? Why is it working and how can we attack the reasons, not just the messages?”

His innovative solution is for governments and other concerned parties to look at the future and invest proactively in the next likely major social media platforms and online trends.

If the entrepreneurs and young geniuses are encouraged – even subsidized – to set up their new ventures from the start with counter-terrorism in mind, then the free world will have a leg up on the terrorists from the second they are launched.

“All we need to do is encourage and promote considering counter-terror as well. Mark Zuckerberg never thought about Russia or terrorists” when he set up Facebook, “but today we know about these forces.”

Weimann concluded by saying that maybe we can find ways to develop and encourage the next Mark Zuckerbergs to embed defenses against abuse by terrorists from the start, which would help the free world finally win back the initiative instead of always reacting.

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