twitter-and-extremism

Social Media’s role in combatting extremism.

A recent Select Committee report has highlighted a number of issues regarding the Government’s policies on extremism.  Among them were calls for social media giants Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take far more responsibility in tackling radicalisation and extremism on the internet.  The companies have inadvertently become a platform for Daesh’s ideology, and are consciously failing to implement the right strategy to combat it.  A large proportion of its propaganda, recruitment process and latest news are readily available to read through posts, groups, videos, photos and tweets.  Facebook and Google informed the commissioners of the report that they proactively inform law enforcement agencies about terrorist material.  On the other hand, Twitter told the commissioners it does not do this, explaining that the site ‘is public, that content is available so often it has been seen already’.

Is the report’s condemnation of social media companies enough?  Are their calls for greater transparency by publishing quarterly statistics on how much data has been taken down going to put an end to online extremism?  I believe more should and can be done to take on this growing problem, which left alone, could make the internet an even deadlier weapon.  Simply removing data and assigning small teams to monitor the situation makes very little sense when recognising that social media is the primary platform for extremist groups.  Companies with an enormous reach on the internet need to combat radicalisation and extremism with greater force.  The ease of creating a YouTube channel, a twitter account or a Facebook group in today’s world, and the fluency at which the information is duplicated and spread in a matter of seconds, paints a very threatening picture.

Resilience and faith have stood the test of time on countless occasions.  Online open movements for all faiths, ideologies in the name of love, empathy, forgiveness and freedom possess a robust and pure answer to radical ideologies.  We should be combating extremist ideology with our own extremist ideology, one of compassion and empathy towards people belonging to any faith and those belonging to none at all.

By Nihal Patel

A Biased Media – Us vs Them?

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The tragic attack in Nice on Thursday 14th of June, Bastille Day, is one of utter heartbreak. Currently, 84 citizens are dead including 10 children, with 202 more civilians injured. Already the Western world is provoked and sympathetic towards the situation in France, with landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster to be lit up in the French colours to show the British people’s solidarity with the French, and the growing rise of Facebook’s “flagtivism’. This notion of solidarity is something which should be praised, as it highlights humanitarian support.

However, it must be noted that there was a considerable lack of solidarity, flagtivism and landmarks draped in national colours when just as horrendous bomb attacks occurred in places such as Turkey and Iraq. The most recent terrorist attacks in Iraq similarly happened on a national holiday, Eid, and during the holy month of Ramadan. Yet where was the media coverage? The bombings in the capital of Iraq killed over 200 people two weeks ago, but on the media it seemed to be less important than the terrorist attacks that happen here in the West. When media coverage has a greater focus and emphasis on what happens in the West it almost seems to suggest that the deaths of Westerners are far more significant than the deaths of those in Middle Eastern countries.

This is not to say that the tragic deaths of those in Nice are less important than those in the Middle East — they were equally as shocking and devastating. The media now needs to combat such acts of cowardly terror through pushing aside ancient orientalist notions of Us vs Them, and truly take up the belief of “#AllLivesMatter” by reporting with equal concern of those closer to home as well as further away. The only way we can fight such attacks is we support each other in solidarity — ethnicities aside.

The Media’s Role in Brexit

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In the post-Brexit hysteria, the media has been accused of following a biased and one-sided agenda, and failing to consider many of the deeper issues of Brexit. Leading up to the EU referendum, the media gave extensive coverage of the hot-button topics of immigration, the economy, and the conduct of the campaign itself; however, technical questions and consideration for the relationship between the UK and the rest of the world were widely ignored.

Different newspapers loyally backed either the Leave or Remain campaign; the Daily Mail had the most pro-Brexit articles followed by the Daily Express, Daily Star, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Mirror, the Guardian, and the Financial Times had the most pro-remain articles. On both sides, however, these papers gave far too little detail until it was too late, and now that Brexit has become a reality, papers which backed Leave are now changing their tune. The Daily Mail was not only gloating after the results came in but also warning about the economic problems that now lie ahead. Similarly, The Express began to discuss the affect of Brexit on the pound after the vote, but had never discussed the topic during the campaigning.

Additionally, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, press coverage of the EU referendum campaign was “heavily skewed in favour of Brexit in the first two months of the campaign.” This study took two sample days of coverage per week for the first two months after David Cameron’s February 20 Cabinet meeting. Of 928 articles about the referendum, 45% were in favour of Brexit while 27% were in favour of remain. The remainder were ‘mixed or undecided’ or did not adopt a position. The study also looked at the specific arguments made on each side. After removing articles about the campaigns themselves, 33% of arguments were about the economy and business followed by 29% about sovereignty, 18% about migration, 14% about regulations, and 6% about terrorism and security.

The bias of the media towards Leave is not particularly surprising since according to Al-Jazeera, UK papers set the agenda for broadcast journalism. About 70% of these papers are conservative, and they echoed Leave’s message about fear of immigrants. The BBC attempted to reject this trend and remain impartial for fear of being accused of biases, which was frustrating to Remain supporters who wanted the BBC to endorse their side and make up for the lack of media coverage for their campaign.

It is not only the media that should be criticised for false statements, however, but the politicians themselves. Now that they have succeeded, the Leave campaigners appear to be backtracking on some of the statements and promises they made leading up to the vote. Ukip leader Nigel Farage distanced himself from the statement that £350m spent on EU contributions could be allocated to the NHS. The Guardian reports that Daniel Hannan, Tory MEP, said that Brexit voters will be “disappointed” if they think that there will no longer be any immigration from the EU.

While a completely impartial media would be the ideal, a biased media is only a problem because of our complete reliance upon it. Politics and government are currently largely in the hands of a small group of elites who control the media’s agenda. This agenda controls public opinion because our education system has not successfully taught us to dig deeper and think for ourselves.

As Damian Tambini of the London School of Economics Media Policy Project puts it, “The urgent question is how media policy needs to adapt: not to maintain blind trust in the system but to establish due trust: the sense that democracy genuinely and demonstrably is a fair fight, and one in which the search for truth and the common interest is paramount.”

To deserve a democracy where our voices carry weight, we need to stop blaming the media for its information and lack thereof and think for ourselves. It is our responsibility to have a full understanding of what we are voting for, as we can blame the media all we want but we will still have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

Daily Express Claims Fake Statistics

The Daily Express (Thursday 1st October, 2015)

Headline Reads: Asylum Claims Hit Record High.

Giles Sheldrick, writes that “648,195 asylum seekers applied to begin a new life in Europe” in 2015. In this claim he asserts that the EU has been faced with a record number of asylum seekers over the past eight months. Sheldrick names the “EU data body Euro-stat” as his source later in the article. The statistics provided by this organisation do not match those of Sheldrick’s. Although the article is correct in its assertion that asylum seekers applications are on the increase, the correct statistic shows an “increase of almost 95 thousand applicants in relation to the year before”.

In using these false statistics the author unnecessarily contributes to the wider anxieties of the British public and those within the EU.

The Telegraph’s One Sided Approach.

The Telegraph (October 9, 2015) Headline Reads: “Why is the world ignoring a wave of terror in Israel?”.

As tensions continue to rise in the West Bank numerous journalists have attempted to highlight the causes and solutions. In doing so, one such journalist, Arsen Ostrovsky, completely disregards the nuances of the conflict. In his article for the Telegraph he writes that “such acts of pitiless slaughter are the direct result of a pervasive Palestinian infrastructure headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, indoctrinating hate, inciting violence and instilling a worldview justifying such gruesome acts”. Nowhere within the article does Ostrovsky highlight the issues of Israeli occupation, IDF brutality or the continual violations to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The implication of such comments, renders Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority the root cause of the violence.

Such a retelling of recent events within the West Bank only seeks to create further divisions and ruptures.

Bowen of the BBC talks Turkey

Jeremy Bowen spoke on BBC’s Radio 4 Today Program this morning. He was reporting from Istanbul on the bombing of the recent pro peace rally that resulted in so very many deaths. He then went on to describe the turmoil in the country in the aftermath of the bombing. He emphasised our need to be concerned since Turkey was a key ally in the fight against ISIS. But the point is that this is wrong. Mr Bowen should know full well that whatever its public pronouncements to the contrary, Turkey supports ISIS and has always supported ISIS. This is disingenuous.

Anonymous Sources: Uncertainty in The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times (September 27, 2015) Headline Reads: “Syria’s dictator gains time as West falls into Kremlin trap”.

As Putin heads to the UN today to debate the future of Syrian intervention, the Sunday Times article alludes to claims that Russia will be taking a hard-line approach to Syria and the West’s intervention. As one anonymous source states: “Nor can you shun us forever”, there is a suggestion in the article that Russia is preparing for fierce debate. Whether Russia’s aims are illustrative of such an approach, is yet to be confirmed, but, the Sunday Time’s usage of anonymous sources is somewhat problematic. Using unsourced quotes from those “close to the Kremlin” or a “Western diplomat” provide nothing to the inquires made within the article. Rather, the use of such unsourced quotations produces a worrying cloud of uncertainty over the motivations behind such an article.

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/article1612214.ece?CMP=Spklr-_-Editorial-_-TWITTER-_-thesundaytimes-_-20150927-_-World-_-243121091&linkId=17368367

International New York Times’ Problematic Definitions of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modern’

The International New York Times (September 24, 2015)

Headline Reads: Islam’s Tragic Fatalism

In a opinion piece on Thursday, author Mustafa Akyol argues that ‘fatalism’ – arguing that a disaster was ‘God’s Will’ serves as a cover for inadequate safety measures too often. Akyol incorrectly characterises the problem as a ‘global Muslim problem’. Rather than lay the blame at the door of elites, Akyol crudely blames all Muslims. In this, he homogenises Islam, and this contributes to Western misunderstanding about the religion – and indeed, the region.

There also seems an assumption that being ‘modern’ and being ‘secular’ are one and the same in Akyol’s writing. He argues that ‘even in Turkey, which is more modern and secular than Saudi Arabia’, the problem of fatalism exists. This off-hand remark runs roughshod over articulations coming from within the region of a Muslim modernity. In short, one can be both ‘modern’ and ‘religious’, and Akyol’s writing presupposes the opposite.

Moreover, Akyol argues that ‘Muslims live within cultural codes largely defined’ by Hanbali ‘dogmatists’. In so doing, he seems to deny ordinary Muslims to ability to forge their own Islam. Perhaps more importantly, his argument has the subcontext  that there is something inherently ‘Islamic’ involved in elite corruption. Given that such arguments are not made about corrupt elites elsewhere in the world, it is misplaced to look back to early Islamic theology to explain fatalism today.

Akyol’s piece homogenises Islam and then demonises it. Neither are useful for critical debate over the role of religion in politics.

Wall Street Journal Opinion Piece Misrepresents Iran

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The Wall Street Journal (September 25-27, 2015)

Headline Reads: A Road Map to Regime Change in Tehran

In his Wall Street Journal début, Peter Kohanloo pushes for a neoconservative, hawkish policy towards Iran. In justifying his position, he misrepresents the history of Iranian relations with the US and the political system in Iran.

Kohanloo argues that there is ‘nothing in the Islamic Republic’s 36-year history’ which suggests that Iran will ‘moderate its behaviour’. One assumes that Kohanloo is referring to the taking of Western hostages and the attack on the American embassy in 1979. However, Iran under Khamanei is, and has been, very different from the immediate post-revolutionary period.

For example, in the 1990s, then-president Khatami appeared US news channel CNN to discuss the ‘new Iran’ and invited the US into dialogue. Immediately after the September 11th attacks, Iran offered assistance to the US in Afghanistan. The US and Iran have been linked conceptually in Iranian foreign policy, and since the death of Khomenei, there have been plenty of examples of Iran ‘moderating’ its behaviour. The crude assertion that Iran is some sort of rogue state ignores this Iranian outreach.

Kohanloo then argues that the US should base its intervention in Iran on upholding women’s rights. However, we should be wary of the lures of the “feminist weapon” which was originally used to justify intervention in Afghanistan. Western feminism often takes this approach in reference to countries whose own gender equality does not match its own. Of course, this is not to say that Iranian laws which prohibit the basic needs of women are not abhorrent. However,  recognisably-Western feminism is not be the only pillar of gender equality. Women’s rights derive from on-the-ground organisations and Kohanloo’s argument seems to disregard the efforts of the Iranian and Islamic feminist movements of today.

Finally, Kohanloo argues that the US can bring ‘true democracy’ to Iran. The 2009 ‘Green Revolution’ surely showed that Iranian civil society is lively and organic. The unrest was itself framed in democratic principles – neither Ahmadinejad nor Mousavi called for coups but rather fought battles of the ballot-box. There may well be some institutional corruption (the Green Movement started due to concerns of vote-rigging in the presidential election of the same year) but Iranians are active members of civil society. Moreover, the Green Movement situated itself in a long history of civil unrest stretching back to 1891 and the Tobacco Revolt. Kohanloo’s argument that Iran needs US assistance to ‘prepare a transition to true democracy’ ignores the millions of ordinary Iranians already fighting for it.

In conclusion, this article crudely puts forward a neo-conservative, hawkish view of Iran which shows remarkably little reference to Iranian history or politics.

Daily Mail’s claim that migrants are determined to reach the UK

The Daily Mail (September 21, 2015)

Headline reads: “20,000 Migrants in Just Two Days”

Ian Drury, the Mail’s Home Affairs correspondent, writes that 20,000 migrants crossed into Austria over the weekend, and they were ‘determined to reach Germany, Scandinavia or the UK‘. In this claim, he asserts that the UK is faced with the same number of migrants as Germany. There is no truth to this – the number of migrants waiting in camps at Calais is dwarfed by the numbers in Eastern Europe and Germany. Between January and June 2014, the United Kingdom had received fewer than 25,000 applications for asylum. In the same period, Germany had received approximately 175,000.

By equating the number of migrants trying to reach Britain with the number trying to reach Germany, the author unnecessarily contributes to a wider sense of fear among the British public.