Terrorist Definitions and Designations Lists: What Technology Companies Need to Know

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This paper offers guidance for technology companies on evaluating third-party definitions of terrorism and lists of terrorist entities.

Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology Paper

Key Findings and Recommendations

Many technology companies refer to third-party terrorist definitions and designation lists when moderating potential terrorist accounts. However, those definitions and lists are often produced for specific legal, political or academic purposes and may not be suitable for general use. Technology companies should understand such lists’ relative strengths and limitations before relying on them.

Key recommendations:

  • Technology companies should define terrorist entities in a way that distinguishes them from non-violent dissidents, state actors, conventional rebel groups, and criminals or criminal syndicates.
  • Technology companies should use government designation lists with caution, since even the lists compiled by democratic governments are more likely to include some terrorist groups but not others.
  • The technology sector and representatives from civil society, academia and government should work together to develop a global, unbiased and real-time database of possible terrorist entities. The database could be used to produce different designation lists based on various inclusion criteria.

Chris Meserole is a Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Daniel Byman is a Professor and Vice Dean in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The authors would like to thank Israa Saber and Malika Mehrotra for research assistance.




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