Category Archives: Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Social Media—A Tool for Terror?

By Ruhi Kumar

The prevalence of terrorist organizations using social media generates a host of new challenges for online platforms, policymakers, and governments. Specifically, the global, highly accessible, and fast-evolving nature of social media provides a particularly lucrative platform for terrorist organizations to promote their ideologies. While there is a growing demand for responsible and accountable online governance, the lack of effective content moderation policies, transparency, and cultural understanding continues to facilitate harmful content on social media platforms. To meaningfully tackle these issues, it is crucial that national governments and lawmakers consider a combination of policy and legislative solutions.

Although the terms of service of many leading social media companies stipulate that terrorist content is forbidden, the lack of effective content moderation processes fails to effectively turn policy into practice. For instance, Facebook’s Community Standards state that organizations that are engaged in terrorist activity are not allowed on the platform; however, what is classified as ‘terrorist content’ under Facebook’s policy is a highly subjective question under which the platform is given complete discretion. Additionally, “by its own admission, Facebook continues to find it challenging to detect and respond to hate speech content across dynamic speech environments, multiple languages, and differing social and cultural contexts.”

For instance, in Myanmar, the lack of content moderators who speak local languages and understand the relevant cultural contexts has allowed for terrorist content to proliferate. According to a United Nations investigation, Facebook’s platform was utilized to “incite violence and hatred against” ethnic minorities in Myanmar, leading to over 700,000 members of the Rohingya community fleeing the country due to a military crackdown.

Despite being aware of these repercussions, Facebook neglected to deploy the necessary resources to combat hate speech as at the time there were only two Burmese speakers employed at Facebook who were tasked with reviewing problematic posts. Hence it can be argued that in some of the world’s most volatile regions, terrorist content and hate speech escalate because social media platforms fail to employ the necessary resources to moderate content written in local languages.

In Myanmar, this lack of policy oversight caused inflammatory content to flourish and harm local minority populations. To address this issue, social media platforms should not only hire local content moderators but also consider developing a partnership program with local individuals and NGOs. Developing a local partnership program would create an effective communication channel wherein members of the local population could report hate and terrorist speech directly, thereby enabling social media content moderators to address harmful content and mitigate potential damage more quickly.

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By, With, And Through: Section 1202 and the Future of Unconventional Warfare

As conflicts continue to be fought in countries far from the United States, it is of increasing importance that our government have the ability to train and equip foreign personnel to ensure global security. To this end, Congress enacted Section 1202 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, enabling the Department of Defense to spend up to $10 million annually to support foreign forces engaged in ongoing and authorized irregular warfare operations.

In their article, Rich, Johnson, and Shirk discuss the significant limitations of this authority, chiefly its definition of irregular warfare as “competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict,” and argue that Section 1202 is critical in allowing Special Operations Forces to counteract the aggressive actions of other nation-states through foreign personnel, while emphasizing the lack of specific authority which would allow SOF to train and equip an irregular force during a traditional armed conflict against another nation-state.

Rich, Johnson, and Shirk conclude that, while this gap may be filled through covert funds or existing emergency funds, there is still value in enacting specific authorities prior to an emergency.

Guantanamo Detention in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new attention to what many familiar with Guantánamo Bay have known for years: the military prison lacks the infrastructure, expertise, and equipment to manage and address emergent health issues, including a serious viral outbreak.

In this article, defense attorney and former Judge Advocate in the US Air Force Annie Morgan discusses the unique issues complicating detainee medical care, such as the age and health of detainees, the military’s lack of adequate equipment and personnel for COVID-19, and the domestic law prohibiting the transfer of detainees to the United States for medical treatment.

Morgan then highlights three solutions to address the inadequate medical care available to detainees, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterward. First, that there should be increased virtual contact between detainees and their lawyers and NGO representatives. Second, that there should be more agile deployment capabilities for specialist personnel and equipment. And finally, that the military should develop a transport plan for emergency medical treatment, either by pursuing congressional carve-outs from the general domestic ban, or by working with third-party countries to provide treatment.