A total of 50 websites dedicated to the distribution of online terrorist propaganda and promoting violent jihadist ideology were targeted over the course of a referral action that took place in the last week of October. The European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) at Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) coordinated the referral activity, which involved law enforcement authorities from Germany and the United Kingdom.
The referral action targeted terrorist-operated and violent jihadist websites by referring them to Online Service Providers (OSP) supporting web infrastructure, such as registrars, hosting companies and Internet infrastructure companies, with a request to review content against their terms of service. Out of 50 websites, including sites supporting the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorist organisations and their affiliates, 21 were suspended following referrals to the relevant OSP.
Terrorist groups traditionally relied on self-administered websites for the storage and dissemination of their propaganda. With mainstream social media companies intensifying their efforts to suspend offending content from their platforms, terrorist groups and their online supporters increasingly use websites as a vital tool to broadcast their message and create archives for their propaganda releases. In spite of frequent suspensions, these websites continue to move their content to new domains.
The referral action championed a consistent and systematic approach to the referral of websites, based on voluntary cooperation with the tech industry. It allowed practitioners to detect and assess new instances of terrorist-operated and violent jihadist websites with the aim of raising awareness of the extent of the phenomenon and draw attention to new patterns of abuse.
Effective and sustained disruption of these sites requires heightened cooperation between Europol and law enforcement agencies and an enriched international public private partnership with OSPs supporting web infrastructure.