Using the World Wide Web to craft and deliver effective counter-narratives to fight the appeal of extremist violence is the focus of a three-day, United Nations-organized counter-terrorism workshop which opened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, today.
"There is no single counter-narrative just as there is no single audience – we will aim to look at many different approaches,” the chairman of the UN’s Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes, Richard Barrett, said at the workshop’s opening. “But we will focus on the best ways to use the internet to undermine the appeal of terrorism to expose its lack of legitimacy and its negative impact and to undermine the credibility of its messengers.
Hosted by the Naif Arab University for Security Studies, the workshop brings together senior officials and experts from governments, international and regional organizations, think tanks, academia and the private sector to look at the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes and possible ways to counter it, particularly through the design of counter-narratives that succeed in challenging the legitimacy, relevance and credibility of extremist groups and reach the audience that is susceptible to the message of those advocating violence.
The workshop is the third in a series of undertaken by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) – through its Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes – with the ultimate purpose of helping UN member states by giving them a snapshot of the current nature of the challenge and offer possible policy guidelines and projects.
In his remarks to the workshop, Mr. Barrett stressed the key elements that need to be incorporated into counter-narratives.
“First, we need a message that resonates with the individual at the same time as it addresses a larger audience; second, we need to criticize and undermine a particular mindset but at the same time offer an alternative,” Mr. Barrett said. “Third we need to keep the message simple and straightforward; it should allow for no possibility for contradiction or dispute. Fourth, possibly most important of all, we need to find the right people to deliver the message; people who command respect and have credibility in the vulnerable communities that the terrorists seek influence."
Building on the outcomes of the previous workshops, the Riyadh conference is expected to launch a global effort aimed at understanding and leveraging the power of the Internet to expose the distortions of the narratives used by terrorists and explain the real consequences of their actions. Moreover, the meeting will provide a platform for developing specific projects focused on countering the appeal of terrorism, including tailoring counter-narratives for particular regions and audiences.
Previous workshops were held last year in Berlin, Germany, and in Seattle, United States, and explored the legal and the technical aspects of the issue.
The Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes is one of the seven working groups and initiatives of the CTITF. The CTITF was set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2005 and brings together nearly 30 United Nations system entities and Interpol. It assists the UN membership with the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by the General Assembly in September 2006.