Terrorism, social media | Homeland Security Newswire

Terrorists & social mediaCan the world ever really keep terrorists off the internet?

By Shontavia Johnson

Published 12 June 2017

After London’s most recent terror attacks, British Prime Minister Theresa May called on countries to collaborate on internet regulation to prevent terrorism planning online. May criticized online spaces that allow such ideas to breed, and the companies that host them. Internet companies and other commentators, however, have pushed back against the suggestion that more government regulation is needed, saying weakening everyone’s encryption poses different public dangers. Many have also questioned whether some regulation, like banning encryption, is possible at all. As a law professor who studies the impact of the internet on society, I believe the goal of international collaboration is incredibly complicated, given global history.

After London’s most recent terror attacks, British Prime Minister Theresa May called on countries to collaborate on internet regulation to prevent terrorism planning online. May criticized online spaces that allow such ideas to breed, and the companies that host them.

May did not identify any companies by name, but she could have been referring to the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook. In the past, British lawmakers have said these companies offer terrorism a platform. She also might have been referring to smaller companies, like the developers of apps like Telegram, Signal and Wickr, which are favored by terrorist groups. These apps offer encrypted messaging services that allow users to hide communications.

May is not alone in being concerned about attacks on citizens. After her comments on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to work with allies and do whatever it takes to stop the spread of terrorism. He did not, however, specifically mention internet regulation.

Internet companies and other commentators, however, have pushed back against the suggestion that more government regulation is needed, saying weakening everyone’s encryption poses different public dangers. Many have also questioned whether some regulation, like banning encryption, is possible at all.

Because the internet is geographically borderless, nearly any message can have a global audience. Questions about online regulation have persistedfor years, especially regarding harmful information. As a law professor who studies the impact of the internet on society, I believe the goal of international collaboration is incredibly complicated, given global history.

Some control is possible
While no one country has control over the internet, it is a common misconception that the internet cannot be regulated. In fact, individual countries can and do exert significant control over the internet within their own borders.

In 2012, for example, the Bashar al-Assad regime shut down the internet for all of Syria. According to Akamai Technologies, an internet monitoring company, the country went entirely offline on Nov. 29, 2012. The internet blackout lasted roughly three days.

China aggressively blocks access to more than 18,000 websites, including Facebook, Google, The New York Times and YouTube. While there are some limited workarounds, the Chinese government regularly targets and eliminates them.