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Google throws weight behind network of 'reformed terrorists'

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Google has confirmed its support for an online network made up of former terrorists and victims of extremism.

Others involved in the Against Violent Extremism (AVE) group include ex-members of the white power movement from the US, Swedish neo-Nazis and erstwhile Islamist extremists from Indonesia.

The AVE group was launched in New York by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue yesterday.

Google Ideas, the ad giant's think-tank wing – which "convenes unorthodox stakeholders, commissions research, and seeds initiatives to explore the role that technology can play in tackling some of the toughest human challenges" – is backing the network.

Support has also been given by the Gen Next Foundation and other non-profit and private sector partners.

"The idea for this network first came about last summer when we hosted the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin. We wanted to initiate a global conversation on how best to prevent youth from becoming radicalised," said Google Ideas' director Jared Cohen.

"In some ways, it was a bit of an experiment to see if we could get so-called 'formers' – those who had renounced their previous lives of violent extremism – and survivors of such violence to come together in one place."

He added: "To reframe the issue of counter-radicalisation, we decided to spotlight formers as positive role models for youth. We also knew that there has traditionally been an over-reliance on governments to tackle these problems, so we wanted to see what diverse groups outside the public sector could offer."

The main purpose of the online network is to urge young people not to become radicalised, Cohen said.

In the UK, consecutive Home Office ministers have form on trying to prevent extremists from using the internet to recruit youths to their cause.

Home Secretary Theresa May published the Coalition's counter-terrorism strategy in July 2011, which outlined its concerns about online radicalisation.

It said:

Terrorists are increasingly using online technology, including Google Earth/Street View for operational planning. The marauding attacks in Mumbai in 2008 were directed by people using off-the-shelf secure communications technology to stay in contact with each other.

Software to encrypt mobile phone voice and SMS functions is widely available and improving. Peer to peer networks and torrents (i.e. files shared between individual computers on a network) can be used to distribute files and information rapidly and securely.

Darknets (ie, private internet communities which enable users to share content securely and anonymously) are likely to become more popular. Cloud computing offers new, potentially more robust means for storing, sharing and distributing material online. It can be encrypted and configured to work with new generation mobile devices, leaving little or no trace of the data behind.

The same report noted that governments could not tackle such a problem alone and said it needed help to make the internet a "more hostile" place for terrorists.

"We endorse and will facilitate the development of international online media hubs for the distribution of material that counters terrorist propaganda," the strategy said.

The same report also admitted that most terrorist material found online goes "unchallenged", a fact demonstrated only too well by Norwegian mass murderer and far-right extremist Anders Breivik, who published his views online prior to slaying 77 people. Breivik is currently on trial in Oslo. ®

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