Web's Role in Terrorism May Be Overstated

The Internet might be the best and cheapest way to spread an idea, but its role in furthering terrorism has been overestimated by Western governments, says a new study by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.

The report, "Countering Online Radicalization: A Strategy for Action," says that "any strategy that relies on reducing the availability of content alone is bound to be crude, expensive and counterproductive. Radicalization is largely a real-world phenomenon that cannot be dealt with simply by 'pulling the plug.'"

Its authors say that removing or filtering Web sites doesn't curb online terrorist activities because the practice is too expensive and only addresses one outlet -- the Internet -- of extremism, while terrorist networks are created and nurtured offline.

There's also no real way to curb the "conversational" portion of the Internet where extremist ideas are discussed, like chat rooms and instant messaging.

So while bloggers might use the Web to broadcast Al Qaeda's message, terrorist networks grow through friends, relatives and classmates, not anonymous online connections.

"While the Internet provides a convenient platform for activists to renew their commitment and reach out to like-minded individuals elsewhere, it is largely ineffective when it comes to drawing in new recruits," the authors write. "Many experts who have studied the problem have concluded that the Internet can support and facilitate but never completely replace direct human contact and the ties of friendship and kinship through which intense personal loyalties form."

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