Educators have long known that social media poses a grave danger to the development of children. It isn’t just the inappropriate content that robs children of their innocence, but the ability of 8-year-olds to send and receive hundreds of messages a day to and from people who are perfect strangers, while not being able to communicate a serious thought or emotion to close relatives and friends. The child who lives in a world of constant stimuli, who can’t go a few minutes without checking his messages, who communicates in pictures or brief messages, is unable to concentrate on a problem or a concept that takes time to solve and understand.
It is very possibly the gravest threat of our generation — and not only to children.
While the Torah world understood the grave danger posed by social media and took steps to mitigate it, the general public has, for the most part, buried its head in the sand.
But what the public was not prepared to do to protect its children, it will now have to do to protect itself from terror groups that are spreading worldwide, thanks to the far reach of social media.
According to Daniel Cohen, research associate at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, Islamic State is using social media to launch a sophisticated campaign aimed at advancing its cause.
“They’re using, maybe simple technology that every youth of today, from this generation, can use, but they are doing it in a more sophisticated way… with a slick campaign,” says Cohen, coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs Program and the Cyber Warfare Program at INSS. “When you add all the videos, that are high quality, it’s not something that someone from the street can do easily. But when you take the videos, the social media campaigns, gaming communities that are also affected over there, publications, when you take it all together, it’s a new media campaign that’s very sophisticated in its message and how they transfer it to the recruitment or support, when they want to share the message… It’s not [the] technology that’s sophisticated, but the message and the idea that’s behind it.”
On the most basic level, terror groups such as Islamic State are able to use social media to communicate with followers — coordinating and issuing orders for attacks — distribute propaganda, conduct psychological warfare and recruit new adherents.
As governments increase their efforts to physically block the arrival of those who have been brainwashed and trained by Islamic State — finally waking up to the threat that they pose — IS is increasingly focusing its efforts on cyber terror, where there are no borders that can block them.
One of the main challenges facing intelligence agencies around the world is to develop new tools for monitoring social media and to impose safeguards that can prevent terror attacks and the incitement that foments them. The effort will require technical advances as well as legislation that will give intelligence and law-enforcement agencies more leeway in getting to the culprits behind dangerous messages, even at the price of violating privacy rights.
Just as law enforcement agencies have a right to monitor criminals who use the internet to break the law, so too countries have a right to protect themselves from those who would seek to damage their computer systems, gain access to top secrets with serious national-security ramifications, or bring down electric grids.
But we need more than the technical know-how to create “cyber borders” and legislation to authorize security agencies to pursue perpetrators of the new terrorism. We need a change in mindset.
Just this past week, Palestinian Media Watch, which, as its name implies, monitors the Palestinian media, school texts and mosque sermons, shared a video of an official Palestinian Authority broadcast featuring a young girl demanding “vengeance and liberation” and calling to “smash the oppressor.” Instead of insisting on the removal of the material that incited to violence against Jews, the video site “terminated” the PMW video exposing the incitement!
In the end, pressure was brought to bear and the decision was reversed, but it is part of a disturbing pattern. PMW reveals Palestinian incitement and hypocrisy and therefore has its material frozen. The same thing happened a few years ago, when it released a video of the Palestinian Authority’s senior religious leader, Mufti Muhammad Hussein, declaring that it was a religious imperative to murder Jews.
It isn’t enough to develop sophisticated tools that can combat cyber terror. There must be a moral standard that distinguishes between those who incite to terror and those who expose the inciters.
As long as the double standard exists, as long as “enlightened democracies” like Sweden refuse to condition funding to Palestinian education on a minimal demand that the Palestinian Authority change the name of 25 schools that were named after terrorists, the best technology and the most advanced legislation will fail to stop the cyber terrorists.
We can only hope and pray that the world will place its survival above its age-old bias, and that once a system is in place to monitor the internet and protect adults from physical danger, the same system will be used to protect the children from spiritual danger.