Curbing online extremism in Saudi Arabia

The number of social media users surged in Saudi Arabia in recent years, and so did the number of extremist who have resorted to social networking sites to spread their ideology.

On Twitter alone, more than 6,000 accounts tweet to Saudis in an effort to promote a militant ideology. The content is then re-tweeted by thousands of other accounts.

Moreover, the Saudi Ministry of Interior revealed on more than one occasion the existence of Twitter accounts that aim to recruit young Saudis, in addition to inciting to target Saudi cities, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.

While the Saudi government has taken a series of measures to curb extremism and cut the financing of terror groups, the spread of militant supporters remains a challenge.

“It’s more challenging than ever to track and control the flow of the terrorists’ public and private communication, but the hardship doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility,” Salman Al Ansari, an analyst based in Saudi Arabia, told Al Arabiya News.

Al Ansari referred to a report published by the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. website which outlined the measures undertaken by the government to battle terrorism.

“The report divided combating terrorism into three parts: men, money, and mind…Men for combating the ones who are involved in direct terror related crimes. Money; for combating terrorism financing. And Mind for combating the terrorist ideology and mindset.

“When we look at cyber terrorism we can simply put it under the Mind part since most of the terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda work heavily on spreading their ideology and ideas through the cyber world.”

Additionally, Al Ansari said social media companies carried some responsibility in curbing content that incited violence.

“Social media platforms are companies, and any company should abide to the common global laws that forbid facilitating any communication service to terrorists.

“Saudi Arabia as any other country, requires higher urgency from all global online companies to combat cyber terrorism with promptness and efficiency,” he added.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group has been particularly active online where it recruits many of its followers both from Europe and the Middle East.

According to one Saudi official, almost 46,000 websites promote content in support of ISIS.

“Websites are good propaganda tools for Daesh [ISIS] because they are away from physical control, supervision or restrictions,” Hassan Al-Daajah, an expert in security affairs and social media issues was quoted by Al-Watan newspaper in May.

“These sites are easily accessible and they are spreading among all members of Saudi society,” he said, adding that “terrorist” organizations implement their agenda through the use of “emotional and passionate” messages.

When asked about what he would recommend as an efficient policy to counter cyber terrorism, Al Ansari said it was more of a global problem than one country’s issue.

However, an increase in investment in cyber security and raising public awareness about the “seriousness of the kingdom regarding combatting cyber terrorism” are two polices he recommended.

Additionally, he pointed to a “Strict enforcement of law upon global social media companies” and “activating the activities of the U.N. center of combating terrorism and passing the Saudi demands on cyber security as a global policy.”