Myanmar security presence in IDP camps, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 31 July 2012. | Photo: Bernard Jaspers-Fajer EU/ECHO; EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid; Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Hate speech in the context of mass atrocity crimes: How social media platforms help and hinder international criminal investigations

The May 2020 arrest of Félicien Kabuga brought an end to a manhunt spanning 26 years and two continents. The capture of the elusive alleged financier of the infamous RTLM hate speech radio station shows the importance of documenting hate speech for court proceedings if and when fugitives are eventually arrested. Today, extremist hate and atrocity speech in the context of genocide and war crimes takes place and is spread online. However, social media platforms have been slow to respond to and document it, and to cooperate with international authorities in doing so.

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Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the 2018 G20 in Buenos Aires
Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the 2018 G20 in Buenos Aires | Photo: Dan Scavino | (Wikimedia Commons)

Fraying Ties: The Securitization of the US-China Relationship

The security dimension has long been the most contentious aspect of US-China relations, marked by strategic mistrust, great-power competition and several flashpoints in East Asia. Until recently, these tensions were moderated by much warmer and closer economic ties, civil society exchanges in business, education, academia, culture and tourism, as well as shared interests in globalization and trade. However, recent moves by the US and Chinese governments to “securitize” the previously cooperative aspects of their relationship have fundamentally altered this dynamic and greatly increased the likelihood of a permanent confrontation between the two great powers.

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Fighters from the Democratic Forces of Syria take positions at the top of Mount Annan overlooking the Tishrin dam in December 2015. (Photo: © picture alliance/REUTERS/RODI SAID)

An Ancient Practice with a New Face: The Use of Water as a Weapon in Times of Climate Change

Throughout history, state and non-state actors have used their power over water and water infrastructure to demonstrate the power they have to oppress civilians or gain ground in combat. Today, climate change and associated water scarcity make this practice even more effective and harmful. However, the use of water and water infrastructure as a weapon continues to be neglected in both the political and academic arenas. The time is long overdue for decision makers and scientists to raise awareness of and spur action that addresses this phenomenon, but as water becomes increasingly scarce it has become an urgent matter.

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Belarus' long-time president Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a meeting with US foreign minister Mike Pompeo in Februar 2020 in Minsk. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US State Department, Photo by Ron Przysucha | Public Domain

Winning Elections but Losing the Country. What does a Weakened Lukashenka Regime Mean for European Security?

No international election observers, no real opposition candidates, internet shutdown and the most brutal crackdown on peaceful street demonstrations the country ever witnessed – these are the initial results of the recent presidential elections in Belarus. Despite the aforementioned violations of democratic procedure, this comes as no surprise for all those familiar with the realities in this East European country which has been ruled for 26 long years by the former collective farm manager Alyaksandr Lukashenka. And yet August 9 2020 is likely to go down Belarus’ history books marking a turning point both for the country and for European security as it opens a new chapter of competition between Russia and the West for Eastern Europe.

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Extremists use social media to spread hateful narratives and propaganda - state actors, NGOs, and young activists are trying to fight this by telling counter-narratives. But how effective is this? | Photo: PRIF

Counter-narratives – curse or blessing?

Taking stock of the increased spread of extremist narratives – especially in social media – the search for appropriate counter-measures intensifies. Consequently, the formulation and dissemination of so-called counter-narratives is often discussed as one possible approach to weaken extremist influence. While there are good reasons in favor of counter-narratives, they also come with risks and uncertainties. This article outlines essential pros and cons for their use in social media and provides insights into the current state of research on the effects of counter-narratives. Finally, it makes a proposal for a balanced approach: Counter-narratives may not be the only cure for extremism, but can serve as an effective tool for prevention and de-radicalization.

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Similar mortar grenades produced by Denel, the South African subsidiary of German defense giant Rheinmetall, are currently being used in Libya. | Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, 2011 | CC BY-ND 2.0

The Libyan Civil War: Shining a Spotlight on a Problematic Arms Export Policy

The German government frequently stresses that it pursues a “restrictive arms export policy”. And yet, some of the biggest customers of German arms manufacturers are countries in the Middle East (MENA region) in particular. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was one of the top ten recipients of German arms exports in 2017 and Turkey also regularly purchases German weapons technology. An Expert Report on the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 identifies these two countries, along with Jordan, as suppliers of weapons and military equipment to the warring parties in the Libyan conflict. In so doing, they are breaching the UN arms embargo in place since 2011. Germany exporting arms to recipient countries such as these carries the risk of weapons showing up in Libya’s civil war zone and is therefore something the German government should not be pursuing.

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President Putin also took part in the vote for the approval of amendments to the Constitution, here on July 1 2020 at a polling station in the building of the Russian Academy of Sciences. | Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

What Does the New Russian Constitution Mean for European Security?

In 1993, Russia literally had to fight to adopt its new constitution. In October that year, the then president Boris Yeltsin ordered tanks to shell the White House in Moscow (seat of then Supreme Soviet, now of the Russian government), where plotters were hoping to restore the Soviet Union and roll back democratic reforms. In 2020, no show of force was required to amend the constitution (if we are to ignore the military parade on the Red Square on the eve of the seven-day-long referendum), and yet the consequences of this move for both Russia and its neighbours might be even more drastic than those 30 years ago.

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It is important for the state, researchers, and tech companies to place more attention on the cultural practices of the radical online milieus from which right-wing extremist or racist terrorist perpetrators come from. | Photo: Unsplash, Annette Batista Day | Free use

A New Wave of Right-Wing Terrorism

Right-wing terrorism is a growing threat for democratic societies globally. With rising numbers in death tolls and far-right narratives creeping into the mainstream, the extreme right assumed a new face through the digital dissemination of extremist propaganda and trivialising violence – thereby attracting new audiences. Greater cooperation is required between the state, researchers, and tech companies to address the manipulative strategies used by these groups.

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The in-depth analysis of social media contributions within radicalisation dynamics of radical groups is a worthwile approach for radicalisation research. | Photo: Unsplash, Patrick Tomasso | Free use

Social Media as a Mirror of External Circumstances: Insights into the Perception of a Radical Group

Radicalisation processes take place in a field of tension between the actor and the outside world. External reactions and circumstances can have a supportive but also a rather negative and escalating effect on the dynamics of group development, depending on how they are perceived. Radical groups often react to circumstances in the outside world, incorporate them into their own discourse and provide their followers with a processed interpretation of them. This can be observed particularly well on social media. Within the scope of a thematic content analysis, we analysed how external circumstances were received within the community and what influence they had on the dynamics of the group Millatu Ibrahim.

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The PANDORA research group gained interesting insights into the nexus of online and offline radicalization processes.
The PANDORA research group gained interesting insights into the nexus of online and offline radicalization processes. | Photo: Peakpx | Free use

The Great Divide? The Online-Offline Nexus and Insights from Research on the Far-Right in Germany

Research financed in the framework of the BMBF’s public security programme is still predominantly occupied with two issues: “online-radicalization” and “international terrorism”. The emphasis on „international terrorism“ still leads to an exclusive focus on “Islamist terrorism” and completely ignores the discussion of and a stronger need for research on right-wing terrorism. The emphasis on “online-radicalization” on the other hand misses the importance of also looking at the offline dimension of any phenomena under investigation.

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