Friday 30 January 2015

'Use inter-faith relations to combat hate on Web'

Visiting rabbi and terror expert says S'pore in good position to do so
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE can capitalise on the strong bonds between communities to pioneer an inter-faith website or online social media platform where religious leaders of different faiths can correct misconceptions, an advocate of Jewish and human rights said yesterday.

This will help create better understanding of religions and counter the insidious effects of negative stereotypes, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who studies the spread of terrorism and hate over the Internet.

"Good relationships exist here between the different religions. This is not the case everywhere. So Singapore can use this as a way to combat hatred and propaganda on the Internet," he told The Straits Times in an interview.

Such a platform could also highlight the values that the different faiths have in common.

Rabbi Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. The work of the US-based Jewish human rights group includes an annual study on the growth of terrorist and hate speech online.

He is on a two-day visit to Singapore and yesterday attended the International Holocaust Remembrance Day observance ceremony, jointly organised by the British Council, British High Commission and Embassy of Israel at the Singapore Art Museum.

He said that with extremist ideology and propaganda spreading online, a platform where religious leaders can respond to questions would be a unique way in which Singapore can contribute to using social media for good.

The number of sites with hate speech and extremist propaganda has shot up to over 30,000, according his centre's study last year. This compares with 20,000 sites in 2013.

But such numbers still pale in comparison to the actual impact that such sites can have, he said.

"A single post or image can get re-tweeted and shared and can reach over a million people. The impact when things go viral is devastating," he explained.

Social media sites are now the front-line weapon of terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which look to recruit fighters for their causes.

Twitter, in particular, is the backbone of their online war, Rabbi Cooper said.

This is because the platform works as a "flash" to get people's attention: "It gets them hooked with images and snappy posts. It reels them in."

He said Twitter is also not as pro-active in taking down posts and accounts that spread terrorist propaganda.

This is unlike Facebook, which has a dedicated team dealing with complaints on offensive material.

Companies like Twitter thus have a hefty responsibility in stemming the spread of hate and violence online, Rabbi Cooper said.

"They have to look at it this way: Am I really going to let these terrorists preaching violence and hate use my products to peddle their views?" he asked.

"It's all hands on deck. It's not just up to governments. The marketplace also has to draw a line."

Explaining why he believes the propaganda threat online will remain serious, he said that social media and online sites erase transnational boundaries.

They allow hate-mongers and extremists to find a sense of belonging with others who share their opinions.

"There's an online sub-culture of death, of sowing fear in the population, of romanticising violence. The Internet makes things easy for terrorists," he said.

"We need new approaches to degrade their capabilities, new alliances.

"If people griped about government meddling in their online lives, they should be aware that our lives might now actually depend on partnerships between governments and companies, non-governmental organisations and people."

Rabbi Cooper, who was in India and Thailand, leaves for Hong Kong today and is also due to visit Tokyo.

Gory video to counter recruiters
The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

PARIS - In a bid to stop the flow of disaffected youth to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the French government has released a graphic two-minute video showing clips of executions, wounded children and crucifixions that tells potential recruits that the glory promised to them is a lie.

The video, released yesterday, appears on an Interior Ministry website, Stop Djihadisme, and counters what the government believes are the top arguments made by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group and other militant recruiters. It is meant to blunt the appeal of such recruiters, many of whom disseminate their messages through Facebook and online videos.

"You are told: 'Sacrifice yourself at our side, you will defend a fair cause,'" the video says. "In reality, you will discover hell on earth and you will die alone, far from your home."

At another point, it says: "You are told: 'Come start a family with one of our heroes.' In reality, you will raise your children in war and terror."

More than 350,000 people have already watched the video on Dailymotion, a video-sharing website.

The video comes three weeks after terrorist attacks at the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket in the city that killed 16 people. Both attacks, along with the fatal shooting of a French policewoman, were committed by Muslim extremists who said they were fighting on behalf of ISIS or Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

In the weeks since the attacks, the French authorities have moved aggressively to rein in speech supporting terrorism, including using a new law that carries harsh penalties for those found guilty.


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