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United Nations orders plan for tackling online terror propaganda

Calls for counter-narratives and collaboration plan with tech giants

The United Nations Security Council is going to try to do something about the internet's role in promoting hateful ideologies and terrorism.

The body spent Wednesday in an “Open Debate on Countering Terrorist Narratives”, during which Microsoft's veep and deputy general counsel Steve Crown said there is no “silver bullet” that will stop terrorists using the internet for propaganda purposes. Crown did say he hopes partnerships between the private and public sectors can make a difference.

The UK's permanent representative to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft weighed in on similar lines, saying “To defeat a network, we need a network.”

Other nations advocated more monitoring of the internet, the better to figure out what to expunge. Pakistan's representative said the world needs “measures to prevent such [terror] groups from exploiting the digital space.”

The meeting did not consider the internet's role in conveying encrypted messages that terror groups use for operational purposes, although Georgia's representative noted that crypto makes it harder for the nation's law enforcement community to do its job. To respond the country “significantly streamlined its procedures for sharing intelligence” and also boosted efforts to integrated vulnerable communities.

The meeting concluded with a request to the UN's Counter-Terrorism Committee, to develop a plan to a “comprehensive international framework … with recommended guidelines and good practices to effectively counter, in compliance with international law, the ways that ISIL (Da'esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities use their narratives to encourage, motivate, and recruit others to commit terrorist acts.”

That plan's expected to include consideration of online matters.

Such plans aren't binding, but are influential. With the technology community already putting up its hand as part of the solution, it seems likely that big social networks will be asked to take a stand.

And if the Committee make recommendations about cryptography, things will get really interesting. ®

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