Monday, September 4, 2017

Terrorism And Social Media Conference At Swansea University

uncaptioned image from entry
In late June, the Tech Against Terrorism team was in Swansea, Wales, to attend the 2017 Terrorism and Social Media Conference (TASM). The event was organised by Professor Stuart Macdonald, and his team at Swansea University. Experts from academia, industry, government, and the research community all converged on Swansea, to hear research presentations and to share ideas around the interplay of terrorism and social media. ...
[A]significant theme of the conference was the evaluation of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness), of countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. The genuine value of CVE efforts, including counter-narrative programmes, are particularly hard to quantify and often involve elements of ‘proving the negative’, i.e. that radicalised individuals only turned away from a particular course of action because of intervention.

One speaker addressed the ineffectiveness of ‘facts’ when fighting terrorist propaganda, where propaganda is not about the truth, but instead about generating feeling and sentiment. This, the speaker suggested, was the way to win hearts and minds. Rather than ‘hitting back with hard truths’, the speaker suggested that one can only challenge hearts and minds focussed content, with hearts and minds focused content.

Another speaker spoke of the “fetishisation” of CVE programmes – where individuals would consider such programmes as having value and importance far beyond their actual impact. In relation to intervention, this speaker argued that narratives only resonate when they find “fertile ground to take root”. As an example, ISIS narratives were noted as being so effective due to specifically answering a “need to belong”, allowing followers to think of themselves as heroes and warriors, escaping from their mundane home lives to live among a community of like-minded “outcasts”. Alternatively, CVE programmes were presented as usually little more than a “cheap” means to allow governments to be seen to be doing “something” by their citizens– a “catering to the bureaucratic, metric-driven goals of government public diplomacy. ...

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