Earlier today, the White House released a short document outlining ideas and actions for countering online radicalization. This follows the publication of our December 2012 report on Countering Online Radicalization in America, which called on the administration to address the growing presence of violent extremists on the internet.
Back then, we made it clear that government censorship must not be on the agenda:
“Measures aimed at ‘censoring’ or ‘taking down’ websites are not only the least desirable due to First Amendment issues, they also are the least effective, and they should not become the central plank of the government’s approach.”
Instead, we suggested a range of alternative approaches, including:
- spreading awareness;
- empowering credible messengers;
- encouraging Internet companies to help mainstream community groups craft more effective messages and programs;
- promoting media literacy; and
- monitoring extremist websites and interactions to gain tactical and strategic intelligence.
In the long-term, we argued,
The best way to defeat ‘bad’ ideas is to promote ‘good’ ones.”
We are glad that so many of our ideas have been taken on board by the White House and now stand a good chance of becoming reality. We welcome the complete rejection of censorship, the emphasis on spreading awareness, and the document’s emphasis on re-focusing existing programs and initiatives to account for the increasingly “virtual” nature of the radicalization into violent extremism.
We agree with the White House that the creation of an inter-agency working group to coordinate programs and initiatives can be a useful instrument for providing coherence and energy. And we recognize the many dangers and pitfalls involved in dealing with this complex and sensitive issue.
That said, we hope that today’s document is just a first step. Though positive, it still falls short of the full-fledged “internet strategy” that our report called for and the administration itself had promised in late 2011.
We are committed to making sure that the White House remains engaged on this issue, and we are calling on Congress to do the same.
After all, countering online radicalization is too important to be a one-off effort. As the Internet evolves, so do the methods of those who want to use it to spread hate and incite terror. Dealing with this new and constantly changing threat should be a major and continuing priority for the government as it works to counter violent extremism.