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The fight against Islamic State may not be won online

The Islamic State has taken over territory in Iraq, Syria, and now cyberspace too. The jihadists have been using the Internet to spread their propaganda by posting their accomplishments and promotional messages on Twitter and YouTube.

Islamic State uses the Internet to recruit
A recent estimate, according to Foreign Policy, suggested that 2,000 westerners have been recruited online to travel to Syria and fight alongside IS and other groups. While a strong effort is needed in order to stop IS recruitment, anti-terror laws cannot be used to restrict freedom of speech rights. The U.N. Security Council, presided over by President Barack Obama, passed a resolution to condemn extremist violence. Despite this measure, the resolution has not achieved its intended goals, because Internet censorship cannot be part of the council's methods for fighting IS.

The Iraqi government blocked websites and attempted to introduce online curfews, but it also met with opposition from free speech activists as well as the population at large. Popular social networks, mainly based in the U.S. – such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook – attempted to remove IS content in recent months, but the effort was not very effective as users can simply create a new account and re-post videos and links.

The Islamic State is actually quite tech-proficient. The Washington Post recently reported on an Icelandic company's announcement that it had closed down a website with the domain "Khilafah.is" because it believed the site was affiliated with the terrorist group. Iceland's site domains are popular with the extremist group because of the suffix ".is" which mirrors IS. While not an example of hacking or cyber terrorism, it does reveal that the group is knowledgeable about websites and internet traffic. 

Islamic State protected by free speech
IS uses the Internet to do more than simply express its opinion. While their transgressions go beyond freedom of expression, they are still indirectly protected by that right. It is difficult to censor IS content without causing ripples that will affect millions of other Internet users.

It is important to note that while the new U.N. resolution is intended to limit terrorist use of the Internet, it may inspire oppressive governments to enact their own agendas with regards to censorship and undermining free speech. Governments around the world have used terrorism as a reason to persecute activists, journalists and anyone who opposes mainstream regimes. Introducing systems that work to ban terrorist content could facilitate the censoring of other content. Once such systems are in place, it will be difficult to hold censors responsible if those systems are misused. Iran, for example, could use new methods to censor nudity and anti-religious sentiment online. They may argue that the tools were given to them by the U.S.

The solution is not online
The Internet today is governed by multiple parties that reach consensus in all matters related to network restrictions, intellectual property and governance, according to Foreign Policy. This system has been criticized by the governments of China and Russia, who intend for the role of government to be more pronounced than that of Western society. If such countries were in charge, the global Internet would not be open and free, and would resemble the national Internets of those respective countries.

Instead of censoring online content, IS needs to be dealt with in different ways. The threat they pose is serious, but the Internet is not the problem. Individuals or companies that do not wish to view content posted by the extremist group should enable the appropriate filters. IS should not be allowed to affect Internet freedom – that would just be one more injustice to the world under their belt.

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