Digital Terrorism and Hate

On Wednesday 14th June I attended a presentation at JW3 by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC))  of the Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project.

Rabbi Cooper and Dr Shimon Samuels (Director for International Relations of the SWC) had just come from the Met Police where they gave the same presentation (more can be found on

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Rabbi Cooper began by showing us the SWC’s ‘Report card’, grading the social media companies according to how well they are dealing with Terrorism and Hate (the SWC treats the two separately because in the US Hate material is protected by the First Amendment but the law sanctions terrorism-related material).  Facebook has done the best job on Hate. Twitter is improving – they recently removed 638,000 terror accounts. In the autumn of 2015 ISIS was sending 15,000 Tweets a day.

Some of the slides in the subsequent presentation were chilling.  For example this one – explaining how to hire a lorry – appeared after the Westminster Bridge attack.

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And on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) this diagram was posted – it shows where to stab in order to create maximum blood loss.

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Rabbi Cooper also discussed encryption.  After the Westminster attacker Khalid Masood used WhatsApp minutes before he went on the rampage, Home Secretary Amber Rudd asked intelligence services to enable ‘backdoor’ access to messaging apps. She called on messaging apps that use end-to-end encryption to install ‘backdoors’ in their systems, to allow the police and intelligence services to access users’ conversations with a warrant, in the case of a terror attack or another emergency.

I asked Rabbi Cooper how much progress could be made, in view of the First Amendment (which protects free speech). He responded that the target was the rulebooks of the social media companies  – they should not be facilitating extremism and terror – indeed if they do, it has reputational consequences.  I also asked him about the ‘lone wolf’ phenomenon; several of the terror attacks have been blamed on ‘lone wolves’ but his Presentation seemed to imply that there was always coordination. He responded that on social media there are tutorials – how to stab, how to make bombs, how to hire a lorry – designed to recruit people to the cause. To then describe them as ‘lone wolves’ is misleading. Rabbi Cooper also discussed the terrorists who come into Europe from the Middle East. At least three of the terrorists who took part in the March 22 2016 attacks in Brussels were “refugees” who entered Europe via Greece and the Balkans route.  Rabbi Cooper said that ISIS can perfectly well use terrorists who are inside Europe – but it sometimes chooses migrants, in order to fuel popular resentment at governments for their immigration policies.

Please contact me for the full presentation. Readers in Israel can sign up for a MFA conference on Monday 19 June where Rabbi Cooper will be speaking, here (no charge):

About the Author
Jonathan Hoffman is a blogger who has written for United With Israel, CiFWatch (now UK Media Watch), Harrys Place and Z-Word.
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