December 15, 2014

How do terrorists manage to be one up on governments?

Twitter suspended the official accounts of Pakistan-based terror organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, last week. In a few hours, the accounts resurfaced with '1' added after the Twitter IDs and claimed that suspension of accounts was illegal and the social media platform had bowed to India, 'world's darkest democracy'. These accounts too were suspended. 

The United Nations has put sanctions against Jamat as a terrorist organisation. India has given numerous proofs to Pakistan, from where Saeed operates with impunity (and official help), of Saeed being the mastermind behind 26/11 serial blasts in Mumbai.

Four accounts lost, do you think Saeed and his outfit are any weaker on the social media? By now, they and their sympathisers must have opened many more accounts with vengeance. And they already have tried to create the impression in social media that an anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri Indian government and its partner-in-crimeTwitter have been harassing a holy man fighting for a holy cause.

This week, a UK TV channel reported that a Bangalore (=Bengaluru) based employee of an Indian conglomerate was running the most influential Twitter account for ISIS, with about 17700 followers. The account was closed by the IS sympathiser, #Mehdi Biswas following the TV report. But, as was expected, at least two accounts with similar names have come to light.

It is through social networking platforms that ISIS has been prompting youth in western nations (especially Europe) and elsewhere to join 'the Islamic war' in Iraq. During investigation leading to his arrested, the police said, 'He was particularly close to the English-speaking terrorists of ISIS and became a source of incitement and information for the new recruits trying to join ISIS/ISIL.' Mehdi is reported to have said to the TV channel that he would have joined ISIS had he not the responsibility to feed his family in India. 

DIGITAL WAR AGAINST TERROR: governments' nightmare


Major nations around the world are reported to be closely monitoring terrorist activities by using latest technologies to mine social media content and analyse it with the help of sophisticated tools. In fact, such data analysis has become a big business for IT companies. Governments then use legal and not-so-legal means to stop propagation of terror and other criminal content and take action against the originators and propagators of such content. 

Major governments are also reported to have launched a digital propaganda war against terror and crime. This, it appears, is supposed to be more effective than just spying over the net and taking on the culprits. For example, the United States has launched a strong social media offensive against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The strategy, it looks, is to make light of radical social messages through use of counter-messages and posting antidotal content on YouTube and other popular visual sites.

As per newspaper reports, US officials have been targeting social accounts with terror links at least for the last two years. The targets mainly are social network entities of Islamic terrorism perpetrators and sympathisers inimical to American interests. There is also much more and proactive flooding of cyberspace with serious content on peace, condemnation of terrorist acts, messages from opinion leaders, paying tribute to those slain by terrorists and so on.

In India, the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) are supposed to be taking covert actions against terror-linked social media interactions, but no public statements about their activities are available. Indian government is among those who request Twitter and Google routinely to bring down objectionable content. There are reports of Indian government telling employees not to be indiscreet on social media platforms and avoid discussions on sensitive issues. In this month itself, the Home Ministry has asked government officials to be cautious on social networks and the Army has cautioned its officers against Kashmiri separatists mis-interpreting social media discussions to mislead youth.

Deep search of the web, legal action, international cooperation and forward intelligence might help in checking 'trending' of terror content and use of the web for major crimes such as drug trade and smuggling. But, when it comes to use of social media for influencing youth, it is a constant guerrilla war in which there are no battles, and so no clear-cut wins. Actions such as filling up social media space through positive and counter-terrorism content on one hand and caution against playing into the hands of terrorists would work but slowly. These two examples show that governments are going to be on their toes trying to catch up with vitiated minds.


Want to read a related article?: abuse of social media