World War Web: Rethinking 'Aiding and Abetting' in the Social Media Age.

Author:Cambron, Rebecca J.

ISIS's use of social media presents a new challenge for counterterror efforts. The organization aims to recruit followers and incite violence through social media. Given that this is a new medium for terrorist organizations, social media companies have come under fire for indirectly providing ISIS with far-reaching platforms to spread its content. The companies, as well as national governments and international entities, have attempted to respond to the threat posed by such content. These responses, however, have proven ineffective. This Note argues that to effectively respond to and combat the threat posed by terrorist speech, national governments should adopt a new approach--an approach which holds social media companies responsible for aiding and abetting terrorist speech inciting violence. Identifying the specific threat as stemming from terrorist speech recruiting for or directly inciting violence narrows the scope of social media companies' potential liability. Additionally, the use of INTERPOL's existing information-sharing systems provides a means of maintaining a "bird's eye view" of terrorism's trends, while its National Central Bureaus provide nation-specific notifications of terrorist speech. Subsequently, national law enforcement should impose the aiding and abetting standard on social media companies that fail to remove the content identified by INTERPOL. Through this blend of international and national enforcement, freedom of expression receives protection through the limited scope of liability while moving towards improved national and global security.

  1. Introduction II. ISIS's Development and Established Use of Social Media Has Yet To Be Effectively Countered By Social Media Companies or Government Entities A. Fueled by its Ideology, ISIS Melds its Religious Zealotry with Social Media to Facilitate its Ideological and Political Goals B. Current Responses by Social Media Companies and Government Entities Fail to Appreciate the Long-Term, Global Threat Posed By the Combination of Social Media and ISIS III. Social Media Companies Should Be Held Liable for Aiding and Abetting Terrorist Organizations When They Knowingly Permit Terrorist Speech to Remain on Their Platforms A. A Limited Definition of "Terrorist Speech" In Conjunction with the Use of An International Aiding and Abetting Standard Best Facilitates Holding Social Media Companies Responsible for Terrorist Content B. Joint Implementation Through INTERPOL's Existing Resources and National Judicial Systems Provides the Best of International and National Systems for Combatting Terrorist Speech IV. Holding Social Media Companies Responsible Addresses the Residual Concerns Related to Free Expression and National Sovereignty A. The Limited Scope of Liability Respects Free Expression While Securing a Means of Increasing National and Global Security B. States Maintain Control Over The System, Protecting Their Sovereignty, Through the Integration of State Terrorist Designations and Judicial Systems V. Conclusion I. Introduction

    The world has changed significantly since it first came in contact with those who orchestrated the bombing of the World Trade Center in September 2001. While many have used terrorism as a tactic to achieve their political or religious ends, al-Qaeda blazed a new trail. Fast-forward to today, the non-state actor birthed by al-Qaeda presents a host of new challenges to the national security community. Unlike those who have relied on terrorism before, the non-state actor has no formal government which the U.N. or national governments may sanction. (1) Fluid boundaries make precise counterattacks challenging. (2) Government must now launch wars against groups few have heard of, lacking a definition of who or what it can declare war against. (3)

    The traditional understanding of terrorism and counterterrorism tactics no longer provides an adequate response to the threat posed by non-state terrorist organizations, like ISIS and al-Qaeda. (4) The characteristics of their groups alone posed a challenge to the defense and intelligence communities following 9/11. (5) But an additional complication emerged in the early 2000s: society changed. Following the increased use of the internet, the rise of social media platforms catalyzed non-state actors' abilities to spread their message. (6) Social media effectively eliminated organization costs, allowing terrorist groups to easily create a global, structured threat.

    The confluence of non-state terrorist organizations and social media generates a host of new challenges for combatting terrorism. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, IS, Daesh, or ISIL, (7) exemplifies how terrorist organizations may use social media companies' platforms in the future. Viewing the online, social-media world as a new "theater of war" for terrorism requires experts, policy makers, and those tasked with combatting terrorism to think differently about counterterrorism methods. (8) More fundamentally, however, it forces them to prioritize the value judgments they make in creating policies and strategies.

    Those combatting terrorism have attempted to reduce the threat through a variety of methods. (9) But the threat persists. This Note argues that to address the new challenges, national governments should hold social media companies responsible for aiding and abetting terrorist speech used to recruit for and incite violence through an international standard. Relying on the foundation laid in customary international law for complicity-based liability, national jurisdictions can impose responsibility when social media companies facilitate terrorist speech by permitting the speech to remain on the platforms. A limited definition of "terrorist speech" based on the type of content and the terrorist organization posting it aids in limiting the scope of liability. Within the limited scope, INTERPOL and national judicial systems may combine efforts to effectively address the new threat to global security.

    Part I of this Note will discuss the background of terrorist organizations' current use of social media and the short-sighted and patchwork responses from social media companies, national governments, and international entities. It will identify key obstacles to effective responses and potential ways to overcome them. Subsequently, Part II will argue that a more effective solution can come from holding social media companies responsible for aiding and abetting the terrorist organizations under a system of joint enforcement by national jurisdictions and INTERPOL. Part II will also define the scope of liability based on a limited definition of "terrorist speech" and how the presence of such speech on social media platforms constitutes aiding and abetting. Using this definition to limit the scope of enforcement, Part II will continue by describing the system of implementation through both INTERPOL's monitoring and notification processes, and national governments' law enforcement. This collaborative system of operation ensures the most responsive means of addressing developments in terrorist speech. Should companies fail to remove the content after notification, national law enforcement and judiciaries may step in and prosecute under the international standard. Lastly, Part III concludes that imposing responsibility does not undermine free speech or national sovereignty, but instead utilizes a narrow definition of "terrorist speech," restricting a limited form of communication connected to violent actions of national concern. In such a manner, joint implementation simultaneously respects national sovereignty and individual rights while combating the global threat posed by terrorist speech on social media.

  2. ISIS's Development and Established Use of Social Media Has Yet To Be Effectively Countered By Social Media Companies or Government Entities.

    Social media companies and governments have struggled in their counterterrorism efforts to appropriately respond to the nature of the threat posed by terrorist speech on social media. With the birth and subsequent proliferation of social media into everyday life, the Islamic State discovered a global medium for its message. (10) The example set by ISIS for future terrorist organizations creates a new challenge for countering such organizations' behavior. (11) Responses by the platform's companies and governments inadequately address terrorism-related content that incites violence or participation in violence; ignoring the inevitable development of terrorist tactics requires more long-term, systematic solutions. (12)

    1. Fueled by its Ideology, ISIS Melds its Religious Zealotry with Social Media to Facilitate its Ideological and Political Goals

      The new world created by social media transformed not only the way regular individuals engage with each other, but also opened up a new means of communication exploitable by non-state terrorist organizations. Social media's growth during the early 2000s coincided with the rise of a new ideological strand of Islamic jihadist teachings--teachings which formed ISIS's foundation. (13) This collision of events enabled ISIS to use social media to advance its ideological goals more effectively and directly than its predecessors. (14) Despite ISIS and al-Qaeda sharing a similar desire for the creation of a caliphate, a nation-state based on Islamic laws, (15) the two organizations varied in how to achieve their political goals. (16) These different strategies condense into a disagreement as to how much support for their political ends each organization seeks from the Muslim world. (17) Al-Qaeda believes in the necessity of "winning the hearts and minds" of local Arab tribes, recalling the Prophet Muhammed's uniting of tribal factions in creating his Islamic state. (18) ISIS, on the other hand, does not require support from the Muslim community in the Middle East. (19, 20)

      These differing viewpoints on the role of the Muslim community...

To continue reading