Why Social Media Platforms Have No Power Over Terrorist Attacks Broadcasted Online
In recent months, social media platforms have suffered losses following violent extremist and terrorist attacks waged on citizens from across the world. Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and even Google’s YouTube have been under fire for what has been termed as ‘negligence’ by various governments across the world.
From the Kenyan attack on Dusit, Mogadishu attacks, New Zealand attack and recently Sri Lanka attacks, the companies have found themselves at crossroads trying to justify user protection against such content. Even as the companies come forward in statements and committee meetings to answer hard questions, curbing such content has proven difficult.
Just like governments and organizations operate on Pseudo accounts most times to cover face while sending certain messages to the public, terrorist groups are now mastering the mode of operation and certainly doing it better than we expected.
Terrorists and extremist sympathizers are not bushmen; neither are they illiterate. Because of this, caliphates have found their way into online platforms and they have established various sites, handles and even pages on these platforms. Before the changing face of terrorism, caliphates were established on physical territories such as villages in Syria and regions of Somalia. Jihadists would, therefore, find their way into these places and drive their agenda from the ground.
Today, technology is easily accessible and so are devices. These caliphates have moved to the platforms where they discuss their agenda and act from the ground hence many cases of domestic terrorism and lone wolf attacks. These caliphates disguised under different names carry out heinous terrorist acts from planning the attack, funding the attack through financial institutions to live streaming attacks and spreading the content across social media and finally conducting an After Action Review post attacks. They work like a solid organ with organized hierarchy, all these, online.
Even as governments move to ban social media platforms and interrogate tech company heads, caliphates are aware of the economy of attention that is social media and they are determined to feed the curiosity of many users for clicks but majorly to spread their agenda.
Since these extremist groups do not have elaborate or permanent sites to post their agenda, they use temporary ones making it hard for authorities and tech companies to detect. In a statement by Facebook after the New Zealand attack, the company argued that it can only take objectionable content down after it is uploaded and only once it is uploaded. This means that these platforms have no capacity and control over the spread of such content. The NewZealand attack that went live for 17 minutes before the account was flagged down. In just 24hours, Facebook removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings.
On Twitter alone, 1.2 Million accounts were shut down since 2015 for promoting terrorism. This is only a fraction of such accounts that have later been reopened under different names. The solutions hereby lie with authorities who instead on dwelling too much on who is posting what, these organs should also launch counter-terrorism campaigns in the war against terrorism and violent extremism.