Online is Offline - World Jewish Congress

Online is Offline

The Interrelation and Interconnection Between Online Extremism
and Offline Terrorism

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Calendar 20 June 2023

Start time 17:15 (New York) / 23:15 (Brussels) / 00:15 (Jerusalem)

The World Jewish Congress, together with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, held a side event as part of UN Counter Terrorism Week focusing on the nexus between online extremism and real-world terror attacks.

The event featured Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, Amb. Jonathan Miller, World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President Maram Stern, Legal Advisor at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN Noam Cappon, Meta Public Policy Director David Tessler, Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University Senior Researcher and Head of the Global Far-Right Extremism Desk Dr. Liram Koblentz-Stenzler, Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism Interim Executive Director and Director of Programming Dr. Erin Saltman, and Sarah Green, of the Israeli State Attorney's Office Cybercrime Department.

The discussion aimed to map out trends and challenges in the terrorism landscape on internet platforms and how they relate to physical harms, as well as review existing and potential solutions such as current multilateral and multistakeholder initiatives.

In introductory remarks, Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Jonathan Miller explained, “Terrorist groups have relentlessly exploited the internet to incite and propagate their extreme ideologies, take advantage of their almost unlimited outreach and anonymous nature. Online platforms serve as the global stage for incitement, recruitment, radicalization, and coordination, presenting formidable challenges in combatting their digital footprint.”

Among the key takeaways from the panel discussion, moderated by WJC’s Director of Technology and Human Rights Yfat Barak-Cheney, were that the distinction between online extremism and offline acts of violence and terrorism should cease to exist as the activities offline are spread online and vice versa. It was also emphasized that just as terrorism is evolving, and structures are less organized and hierarchical, so is their spread and use of online platforms. It is becoming harder to moderate content through the designation of terrorist organizations and individuals and behavioral indicators are key to monitoring the spread of extremist content online.

The need for cooperation across sectors – between companies, governments, civil society, academia, and international bodies such as the United Nations – was a recurring theme throughout all presentations with several innovative solutions proposed, including the importance of cross-industry collaboration, fostering partnerships to leverage collective expertise and resources. 

Earlier in the week, Barak-Cheney made remarks as part of the UN Counter-Terrorism week in a session on “Building Effective and Resilient Member States Institutions in the Evolving Global Terrorism Landscape,” noting that hate speech is always a precursor to terrorism. Better legal frameworks, definitions, and enforcement against hate speech, including mechanisms to counter hate speech as it spreads on different platforms, is key to countering extremist ideologies, she added. 

She further said “Education and community engagement are powerful tools of prevention. Our organization advocates for investment in programs that promote tolerance, understanding, and respect among diverse communities. By fostering dialogue, promoting interfaith cooperation, and combating hate speech, we can create a society that rejects violence and extremism. We are especially proud to be working closely with UNESCO, UNAOC, UNOCT and others in this regard.”

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