In the wake of the recent hostage crisis, which was largely played out on the Internet, every section of Japanese society must work together to prevent extremism taking hold in the country’s online social spaces, an expert on digital hate speech and terrorism said Monday.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization, told a news conference in Tokyo that Japan is just as vulnerable as Western countries to the risk of terrorist groups using social networks to recruit fighters and provoke them to carry out lone wolf attacks.
Cooper, who has headed a task force on digital hate speech for 20 years, said the Islamic State militant group’s manipulation of social networking heralds a “new era” of terrorism, where instructions for making bombs and other weapons are delivered to would-be attackers in slick online magazines in multiple languages.
“I have no doubt that eventually such information, if not already available in Japanese, will be,” Cooper said.
Cooper said Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, believed to have been killed by Islamic State, were “targets of convenience,” and victims of their captors’ ability to grab global attention and seize on the Japanese population’s fears.
Through its use of microblogging service Twitter and other social media platforms throughout the hostage crisis, Islamic State was “playing with the emotions of a nation as well as the lives of two innocent people,” he said.
“The availability of these marketing tools to the terrorists has changed everything, and Twitter especially plays a key component in the food chain of the marketing approach of the terrorist groups.”
Twitter is one of Japan’s most popular online social platforms.
Although Cooper praised a Osaka High Court ruling last July in a damages suit against a group using anti-Korean slogans to picket a Korean school in Kyoto, he warned against strong government censorship of discourse on Twitter and other platforms, saying it has the potential to inhibit democracy.
Instead, the operators of social networks and Internet service providers in Japan should institute their own industry rules allowing them to delete content likely to incite hate or acts of terror and make it easy for anyone to report such content, Cooper said.
“All citizens in democracies and many institutions in democracies can be more involved in making the world a little safer and making it a bit more difficult for the terrorists,” he said.
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