Dan Shefet
Publication Date
September 30, 2016

Lawyer Court of Appel of Paris

"There is growing concern that the Internet operates as a catalyst for radicalization and violence. Whether the main impact is one of 'self-radicalization' or the dissemination of information, instructions or communication is still open to debate. The true extent of Internet radicalization i.e. impact and causality remains unclear. It seems however that research conducted so far supports the theory of a correlation between exposure to online radicalization and the endorsement or commission of radicalized acts in the offline world."

This report analyses the legal measures taken specifically against online radicalisation adopted by 32 countries representing the 6 geographical regions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It also examines international treaties, European directives, and resolutions at a regional and international level in an attempt to identify grounds of a common understanding and a consensual approach to measures against online radicalisation by the international community. The paper was prepared as a contribution to an international conference of high-level experts entitled "Internet and the radicalization of youth: Preventing, Acting and Living together", organised by UNESCO and the Government of Québec, Canada, from October 30 to November 1 2016.

The introductory section briefly describes how the internet is being used for radicalisation purposes and to what extent the internet actually serves as a catalyst or facilitator of radicalisation. As noted here, "the atrocious acts committed by different terrorist groups have led several countries to take drastic legal measures aimed at protecting the right to life as enshrined in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 6. and other values supported by the international community. These measures may in some cases encroach upon correlative human rights and in particular freedom of speech, the right to information and the free practice of religion....At the international and regional level, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the East African Community, the Organization of American States, the Association of South East Asian Nations, the African Union and the League of Arab States have passed resolutions and adopted treaties providing for harmonization of laws, the creation of new criminal offences and the establishment of rules governing jurisdiction and cooperation by way of information sharing and coordination of resources (Section 1)."

Section 2 focuses on definitions of radicalising content, providing examples of definitions. The attempts to identify/formulate an efficient and appropriate definition are not confined to the analysis of legal instruments and jurisprudence but also take into account academic definitions applied in sociological and psychological studies as well as the definitions proposed by specialised agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Section 3 is broken down into subsections on "General Principles of Freedom of Speech", including the caveat covering abuse (Section 3.a), "Internet and Freedom of Speech" (Section 3.b), and "Specific Restrictions of Freedom of Speech" (Section 3.c). "Any attempt to regulate content on the Internet or any other medium will face the challenge of the protection accorded to freedom of speech and freedom of information (the latter being a collective freedom rather than an individual freedom). It is critical to analyze to what extent restrictions of freedom of speech with regard to radicalizing content may be consistent with existing and broadly recognized limitations based on the general abuse caveat or specific content restriction mandates."

Hereafter, the report focuses on the more practical aspects of monitoring and enforcement in Section 4: "Online Law Enforcement and Liability", which is divided into Section 4.a on the "Regulability of Cyberspace" and 4.b on "Jurisdiction and Extraterritoriality", followed by Section 4.c on "Internet Specific Law" and 4.d on "Private Sector Enforcement and Liability", which delimits the range of parties that may be held accountable for dissemination of radicalising content, and Section 4.e on "State Responsibility for Private Actors". ("The private sector wields unprecedented power and control over the infrastructure, architecture and future development of the Internet. It is therefore legitimate to raise the question whether (and to what extent) the private sector should be under a legal obligation to actively contribute towards the struggle against 'radicalizing content'."

Section 5 deals with specific "Filtering and Blocking Mechanisms, Encryption and Counter-Narrative". It describes the technical options available to content restriction and analyses the legality of their application (procedural guarantees and conditions). Finally, policy recommendations are made in Section 6 on the extent of state and internet service provider (ISP) accountability, dispute resolution mechanisms, treaty cooperation, and specific measures that could be adopted. For example, one recommendation is that the approach adopted by the Sakinah Campaign in Saudi Arabia should be generalised. Conducted by an independent NGO, this campaign seeks to engage in dialogue with individuals who use the internet to "promulgate a radical view of religious convictions and interpretations. The dialogue and counter arguments are administered by highly qualified theologians and scholars whose views carry considerable authority. Refuting the ideology of takfir [the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another Muslim as kafir (non-believer)] is an important element of the counter dialogue. A transcript of the exchange is made available online." [Editor's note: click here to read more about the Sakinah Campaign.] To cite another example offered in the report: In Singapore and the Seychelles, the government has reportedly encouraged a group of volunteer religious scholars and teachers to launch a website that dispenses arguments that rebut violent extremist teachings and beliefs. The concrete policy recommendation here: "A general right of response or counter narrative should be created (based on Media Law)."

The closing sections of the report comprise an extensive bibliography, followed by Annex 1: Country Questionnaire/Survey and Annex 2: Statistics.


UNESCO website, November 3 2016. Image credit: © Combating Terrorism Center at West Point