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Professor Hannah Bloch-Wehba Offers Insights to Media Outlets Covering Terrorists in the Online World

Professor Hannah Bloch-Wehba

March 25, 2019

Professor Hannah Bloch-Wehba was interviewed by the press about the ways that social media platforms choose to handle postings by different terrorist groups.

Bloch-Wehba was quoted by both Wired magazine as well as the Associated Press regarding the concern that much more effort has been exerted to block the spread of terrorist content from high-profile foreign groups, while applying fewer resources and attention to the terroristic content of domestic white supremacists.

This concern has been further supported by the recent shootings at two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during which the suspected shooter live-streamed the massacre. The footage was eventually halted, but not before it had already been shared on several sites.

Online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook claim that it is easier to identify content coming from international terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda, since industry-wide information-sharing efforts, such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, provide reference files for the platforms to utilize.  

However, Bloch-Webha told Wired in an article published March 20 that technology is no better at identifying ISIS-related content than that of white supremacists or domestic terrorists. Instead she argues, “We just haven’t seen comparable pressure for platforms to go after white violence.” Regardless of the cause, she believes that at this point, “it’s going to be hard for them to play catch-up,” especially since radicalization is now happening online in a whole new way.

Bloch-Wehba was also quoted in a March 19 Associated Press article about the New Zealand massacre.

“I don’t think society understands enough about the role of propaganda and violent speech in provoking actual violence,” said Bloch-Webha. Despite the suspected shooter’s numerous references to online videos within his live-streamed terror attack, she believes that it is still difficult to blame the suspected shooter’s actions entirely on his online behavior.

Professor Bloch-Wehba is an authority on the intersection of civil liberties and cyber issues in the law, focusing on free expression, privacy, and government accountability. Prior to entering academia, she worked as a Stanton Foundation National Security Fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.