Transnational Lessons from Terrorist Use of Social Media in South Asia

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This paper looks at how social media platforms have been instrumentalised for a variety of purposes by terrorist organisations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and how the governments of those countries have tackled the issue

Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology Paper

Key Findings

  • There are currently gaps in identifying terrorist content on various social media platforms. There may be a need for greater in-house expertise in technology companies, with the requisite language and cultural knowledge, to know where to look for content that might be missed by algorithms.
  • There is a link between hate speech and terrorist activity in South Asia. Given the extent of inter-communal violence in the region, it is critical to carry out further research on this link.
  • Terrorists’ use of end-to-end encrypted communications is a common feature of all three case studies in this paper: Pakistan; Bangladesh; and Sri Lanka. However, government responses to this in South Asia have so far been unhelpful, as their suggestions have been unimplementable and social media blocks have had limited effectiveness.

Summary of Recommendations

  • There is a need for greater public–private dialogue on how the internet and social media are used by terrorists and for counterterrorism. A multi-stakeholder approach would not only help technology companies develop better approaches to managing the issues but also build links between communities and authorities to develop more cooperative approaches.
  • Governments should consult technology companies and civil society while designing regulations aimed at countering terrorist use of the internet to enhance the effectiveness and feasibility of regulations.
  • Government officials in South Asia need to be trained on effective identification of terrorist content, reporting mechanisms and the use of metadata on encrypted communication platforms for investigative purposes.
  • Technology companies should recruit more content moderators speaking Baloch, Sinhala, Tamil and Bangla, and support qualitative research into the dissemination of terrorist propaganda in regional languages.
  • Social media platforms should consider developing easier ways for users to report terrorist content.
  • Governments in South Asia need to clarify the scope of counter-extremism legislation and its applicability online, and clearly define hate speech and terrorist content.

Aaditya Dave is a Research Analyst focusing on South Asia in the International Security Studies department at the RUSI.


Aaditya Dave

Former Research Analyst, South Asia

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