September 23, 2017

The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online

In this major new report, Policy Exchange provides a comprehensive analysis of the struggle against online extremism – the ’new Netwar’. The spate of terrorist attacks in the first half of 2017 confirmed that jihadist radicalisation is a real and present danger to the national security of the UK and its allies. Yet talk of ISIS’ ‘decline’ in the virtual world has been grossly overstated. The group has shown itself to be adaptable and durable – in spite of the loss of its physical strongholds – and there is a danger that the blood and treasure we have invested in Iraq and Syria will produce little more than a pyrrhic victory. ISIS is producing extremist content online at a consistent rate and this is spread across a vast information ecosystem: it is disseminated to core followers via Telegram, before being pumped out into the mainstream social media space (via Twitter, Facebook and other leading platforms). For this reason, we argue that more must be done to force jihadist content out of the mainstream. It is clear that the status quo is not working; it is time for a new approach.

Our major survey of public opinion shows that two-thirds of people believe the leading social media companies are not doing enough to combat online radicalisation. Three-quarters of people want the companies to do more to locate and remove extremist content. In this report we explore a range of policy options for interdicting the supply-chain of extremist content – at both ends. We urge the government to pursue a tougher line with the mainstream companies – to force them to clean up their act. Equally, we suggest the government may wish to consider new legislation to counter the possession and consumption of extremist material online. Through these and other measures, we argue that society as a whole must act to overcome this serious threat to the security, vitality and prosperity of western societies.


Dr Martyn Frampton

Senior Fellow

Dr Ali Fisher

Explorer of Extreme Realms at Human Cognition

Dr Nico Prucha

Chief Content Curator at Human Cognition.

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