Countering violent extremism: an online approach
8 Feb 2013|

Andrew Smith’s recent post correctly notes the importance of programs designed to counter violent extremism (CVE) in Australia. He points out that there have been concerns that Australian CVE projects may be missing their target by focusing on community empowerment rather than counter extremism. I’ve argued in the past that this was a major concern in the UK and we should learn from this mistake here.

But we also need to be careful not to confuse efforts to counter violent radicalisation from programs promoting social cohesion. Cohesion work should be led by departments like community services and counter radicalisation efforts led by the police. In particular, it’s important to target those individuals who promote extremist views or who are involved in extremist networks. We also need robust measures to gauge the effectiveness of different CVE projects.

I’d like to also expand on a point Andrew raises in his post about the role of the internet in garnering support for violent extremism. As Andrew notes, some individuals will have been radicalised, at least in part, on the internet via channels like AQAP’s Inspire magazine. Countering online radicalisation should therefore be a key priority in the Australian government’s CVE efforts.

In the context of South East Asia, a joint paper from ASPI with RSIS in Singapore has mapped out several approaches to tackle the problem. For example, governments can spread community information about online radicalisation, encourage counter narratives to challenge extremism, take down certain websites and use the material online for strategic intelligence. Despite a call to ban or filter such material (see Chapter 6) this isn’t practical, and would undermine intelligence efforts to pursue home grown extremists.

Last October, Prime Minister Gillard announced that a cyber white paper, to have focused on cyber security, would be broadened to make it more a digital white paper. Apparently this was to allow the government to spruik the benefits of the National Broadband Network. One thing the new cyber paper should do is set out clearly what the government will do to counter online radicalisation and what resources will be devoted to this.

It might also consider the merits of promoting online communities of Australian young people motivated to discuss and act against hate speech online, a program that’s being developed in Europe.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.