On September 1 and 2, DHS Policy’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program (TVTP) hosted the 5th Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention for approximately 60 mostly Atlanta-based civil society leaders. This year’s Forum gave these leaders an opportunity to learn directly from technology and marketing experts on how to combat terrorist use of the internet. Community leaders attended multiple sessions over the two-day Forum, including: “The Threat—Narratives & Recruitment in the Online Space;” “Responses to Terrorism;” “Research, Trends & Data;” “Tech Talk & Toolkit;” and “Online to Offline Interventions & Referrals.” Panelists provided presentations highlighting threats, trends, and tools, and community members asked questions to better understand how they can help prevent terrorism. The 16 speakers brought critical insights to increase digital literacy and equip communities with the appropriate tools and resources to be effective and resilient against terrorist narratives and content in the online space.
Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention bring community leaders and tech companies together to build the capacity of credible voices against terrorism in the online environment. These forums also provide a platform for community leaders to improve online effectiveness and understand the value of content creation for digital spaces. Ultimately, the goal of the forums is to build authentic, scalable and sustainable local response capacity to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization.
Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention are typically held in person, with the last event having occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last September. Due to the pandemic, this 5th Digital Forum originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta was postponed and later reimagined into an all virtual event. The lineup of experts and stakeholders used this platform to reach the Atlanta community and equip them with crucial digital tools and resources. TVTP timed the event with the recent placement of its first Atlanta-based Regional Prevention Coordinator to help the region begin to build a local prevention framework for preventing terrorism.
A former violent white supremacist offered her personal experience of radicalizing to violence and the importance of maintaining engagement with youth in the online space. Attendees then heard from a counterterrorism expert discussing recruitment tactics and the gamification of violence, and finally from CISA’s Countering Foreign Influence Task Force regarding the crucial overlap of disinformation from foreign and malicious actors with the area of targeted violence and terrorism.
After outlining the scope of the threat in the online space, participants were given vital information on several initiatives and programs across the country, including student-led projects, that work to build digital capacity and demonstrate how online behavior can help identify vulnerable populations. Panelists emphasized the importance of bystanders and how families, friends, and other community leaders are necessary in addressing the threat before an individual of concern requires law enforcement intervention. Academic and NGO partners spoke about empirically-driven research in identifying the various pathways to violence, as well as a centralized platform for terrorist content that serve to aid smaller tech companies’ moderation and awareness of harmful content.
Technology sector leaders discussed the many ways in which companies are working with nonprofit organizations, government, and civil society to increase credible positive content on their platforms. Representatives from Facebook and Twitter shared key resources for NGOs and civil society to employ in their communities, including best practices to leverage social media platform-specific tools and features in order to have the great impact for their organizations and communities.
The last panel of the day spoke about interventions and how parents, teachers, mental health practitioners, and community members can all play a vital role in off-ramping individuals on a pathway to violence and intervening when concerning messaging is exchanged online. Specific resources, including vital hotlines, apps, and online tools, serve to engage with and help vulnerable individuals.
The question and answer sessions underlined community-wide interest for specific tools and strategies to address threats their community is facing online, and ways to identify members of their community that are vulnerable to radicalization to violence online. The discussions were frank, robust, and challenging, and resulted in several new community connections with DHS TVTP staff and civil society leaders. These relationships will be enhanced and leveraged with TVTP’s newly installed Regional Prevention Coordinator, and DHS says it looks forward to continued engagement with the Atlanta area.
Future Digital Forums are already being planned for emerging communities of stakeholders. Previous Digital Forums were held in Pittsburgh, PA in September 2019, Santa Monica, Calif. in November 2018, Silicon Valley, Calif. in February 2018, and Washington, D.C. in September 2017.
Please reach out to Hala V. Furst, Associate Director for Sector Engagement in TVTP, at email@example.com if you would like to learn more about Digital Forums for your community.