Parts #1, #2, and #3 of CVE online in the U.S. discussed the challenges of implementing a strategy to remove/curb the presence of extremist content hosted on ISP’s based in the U.S. In Part #4, I’ll shift to a question I’ve not really heard anyone bring up:
4) We’ve let al Qa’ida extremism drive our thinking on eliminating extremist content online. What about other domestic groups that advocate extremism and host extreme online content?
As seen by recent events in Norway, extremism comes in many shapes and sizes. Recently in the U.S., there have been significant increases in right-wing, white supremacist, anarchist and separatist groups. I wrote about this phenomenon a few months back and received the usual response of “who cares?”.
Despite these domestic groups being quite organized, well trained, well armed and equally extreme to al Qa’ida (AQ) in many ways, the media and society treat non-AQ extremism much differently. Violence carried out by members of right-wing or supremacist groups quickly moves from media headlines and is often attributed to a “crazed man” rather than an organized movement. Then there are gangs, which also advocate violence much in the same way as terrorist groups. Would we pursue the elimination of domestic terror group or gang content with equal zeal to the way we pursue AQ-related extremist content?
I think fairly instituting a policy of extremist content removal requires a balanced application of policy across all types of extremist groups. It’s easy to police AQ websites because no one in the States will come to their defense. However, the extremist content of right-wing, anarchist, and supremacist groups will likely use freedom of speech defenses to protect their content. How would we handle these domestic groups that fight back against content removal?
Eliminating websites for many domestic extremist groups will play directly into their ideological justifications and enhance their recruitment. These groups would see content removal as a violation of freedom of speech, expansion of government, etc. Again, I’m taking this a bit far. But, I grew up in the Midwest and was exposed at an early age to some very extremist thinking (that was never followed up on). While most of these groups are harmless, their rhetoric and websites can be strikingly similar to very serious extremist groups like AQ. Just in the past few years I’ve heard political figures say things like “Separating from the Union” or “Reload”. While I don’t see these as serious extremist views advocating separatism or violence, it would be challenging to determine where the line between serious and silly resides.