National Security & Defense

Winning the War Against Terrorist Messaging

3 minute read

Last October, the Administration published the first National Strategy for Counterterrorism since 2011, encouraging governments, private industry, and civil society to work together to combat terrorist radicalization and recruitment, including that enabled by online terrorist propaganda. Under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump, we have accelerated efforts to defeat terrorists posing a threat to the United States and have made significant progress in this area.

The Administration’s policy is consistent with long-standing political ideals, encouraging technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist purposes.

Last year, industry leaders publicly launched the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which aims to advance ways to achieve this goal. Their results have been substantial, with Facebook now asserting it is removing over 99 percent of ISIS and al-Qa’ida content before users flag it, blocking most within a minute of posting.  Similarly, YouTube states that it has quadrupled the percentage of terrorist-related videos taken down before they receive ten views—from eight percent of takedowns a year ago, to nearly 50 percent today. But despite these successes, the U.S. Government and our industry partners know we will not succeed if we only react. Instead, we must grow our efforts to enable credible voices promoting alternative narratives to those who otherwise might be susceptible to terrorist messaging.

On February 26, 2019, we joined His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan—one of our most capable and effective partners in developing credible, alternative narratives—along with companies, civil society organizations, and foreign partners to advance our collective terrorism prevention efforts. Simultaneously, the 9/11 Commission co-chairs published a critical new report noting that our fight against terrorism is far from over, echoing the refrain that we must now focus on preventing the emergence of new terrorists.

We must continue to be proactive in our efforts to combat terrorist content and counter violent extremist ideology on the Internet. We must also do this while continuing to respect the democratic ideals that allow and encourage authentic freedom of expression.

This is a challenging task. Despite our continued success against ISIS and al-Qa’ida around the globe, we know they will try to use the Internet as a means to regroup and rebuild. In addition to this, we are continually working to combat violent domestic extremist movements and malign foreign influence—including from Iran and its terrorist proxies. Our success combating radical Islamist terrorist content online, however, should encourage faith that these efforts are not in vain.

Protecting our freedom of expression on a free, open, and interoperable Internet is not—and should not—be an easy endeavor, but collectively we will prevail.