Quilliam Launches White Paper on the role of Prevent in Countering Online Extremism

2 December 2014

Following increased scrutiny of the UK government’s counter-extremism strategy, Prevent, Quilliam launches a White Paper that assesses the successes and failures of Prevent in its 10 year history, and makes recommendations for its improvement to deal with the current nature of the threat.

This paper responds to the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee and adds to the debate surrounding the 2014 Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.

Currently, the two biggest challenges for UK counter-terrorism are the radicalisation and recruitment of individuals by the jihadist organisation Islamic State (IS) and the use of the Internet by IS and other extremist organisations to spread unwanted and potentially dangerous ideologies and narratives internationally.

In particular, this White Paper analyses existing policy on tackling online extremism and makes a series of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this policy. Our findings and recommendations include:

  • Counter-extremism and counter-terrorism should be separated at a strategic and delivery level. The UK government must consider the central co-ordination of Prevent, separate from the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism, with Select Committee oversight, and an in-house due diligence unit and training body.
  • The government must recognise that initial processes of radicalisation predominantly occur offline. While the Internet is an important secondary socialiser and potential catalyst for radicalisation, offline processes must be better addressed in preventative measures, particularly within schools, universities and prisons. Prevent must develop an online sphere of operations, and its online counter-extremism work must learn from the successes and failures of offline counter-extremism, and be coordinated accordingly.
  • The government must accept that negative measures, including censorship and filtering initiatives alone, are ineffective in tackling online extremism, They tackle the symptoms rather than the causes of radicalisation. Motivated extremists and terrorist affiliates can evade such measures easily through the dark net and virtual private networks. Blocked materials consistently reappear online and there is no effective way for Internet Service Providers or social media companies to filter extremist content.
  • The continuation of communication and working channels between government, social media companies and ISPs is key to continuing the current efforts being made to remove content which is deemed illegal under UK terrorist legislation and more broad regulations against Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence.
  • Counterspeech and positive measures are critical in challenging the sources of extremism and terrorism-related material online. Community engagement and civil society action are essential components of such positive measures and, as such, counterspeech initiatives should be civil society-led and, only they if fulfill the necessary criteria, should be supported by government through Prevent.

Quilliam’s Political Liaison Officer, Jonathan Russell, said:

  “Recognising that censorship alone is ineffective and counter-productive in efforts to counter online extremism, the government should consider building an online dimension into Prevent. This would enable positive counterspeech to come from civil society to challenge the ideologies and narratives that underpin extremism of all kinds”.

The White Paper can be found on the Quilliam website here: http://www.quilliaminternational.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/white-paper-the-role-of-prevent-in-countering-online-extremism.pdf