Rapidly evolving technological advances over the past decade have created powerful mechanisms to instantly and directly reach billions of information consumers around the world. Although the latest information revolution has fostered tremendous progress by connecting people in every corner of the planet, it has also been accompanied by governmental and non-governmental efforts to spread propaganda, particularly through social media platforms. This course will review the legal and policy aspects of addressing these challenges, focusing on the rise of terrorist recruiting and other organized online propaganda efforts.
As governments intensify their extensive counterterrorism initiatives, terrorist recruiting continues to evolve and poses a more complex threat than perhaps at any time in history. Terrorists no longer require in-person recruiting to spread their ideology and to inspire attacks in other countries. Domestic and international extremist groups have become more adept at using online platforms and other tools to “crowd source” their recruiting in a decentralized attempt to attract and inspire disaffected individuals by exploiting grievances and offering a sense of purpose, belonging, adventure, and obligation. At the same time, governments and other organizations are themselves using social media platforms to reach audiences in their countries and around the world. They have done so not only to increase public support for their political leaders, but also to attempt to impact public debates on major issues, influence policy formulation, and even to sow discord between groups domestically and abroad. These propaganda efforts have raised questions about whether social media companies, governments, and international organizations should play a larger role in determining how such information is disseminated, and how they can implement solutions without undermining freedom of expression and other legal protections.
In addressing online propaganda, this course will focus on legal and policy challenges and strategies in three main areas: (1) assessing and countering methods to spread propaganda online, including terrorists’ efforts to recruit followers and to inspire attacks; (2) examining innovative NGO and private sector cooperation in developing counter-propaganda initiatives; and (3) utilizing existing law enforcement tools and crafting new governmental and non-governmental prevention and intervention programs to disengage, redirect, and rehabilitate those who are radicalized online.