ASEAN security forum agrees to use social media to combat terrorism

Christine T. Tjandraningsih, Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 08 2017 01:41 AM

Foreign ministers from over two dozen countries joining in a major regional security meeting agreed Monday to counter terrorism by using social media amid raising concerns over possible threats of foreign terrorist fighters to the region.

In the chairman's statement of the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual security meeting involving foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and such countries as China, Japan, the United States, Australia and South Korea, they will stress "the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists' narratives online," according to a final draft seen by Kyodo News.

In the chairman's statement of the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual security meeting involving foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and such countries as China, Japan, the United States, Australia and South Korea, they stressed "the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists' narratives online."

A joint communique of the ASEAN foreign ministers released the previous day also stressed "the importance and effectiveness of the whole-of-nation approach as opposed to a purely military option in combating the problem."

They said the approach entails "preventive education, involvement of women and youth and civil society, promotion of peace and moderation as a counter-narrative, and more effective use of social media in countering terrorist messages online."

Concerns have been raised over the threat posed by so-called foreign terrorist fighters to the region, particularly since the outbreak of fighting in the southern Philippine city of Marawi between Islamic State-inspired militants and Philippine government forces.

Since the Marawi battle started on May 23, 528 militants and 45 civilians, as well as 122 government soldiers, have been killed, while almost 1,800 people have been displaced, according to official figures.

"Marawi is a wake-up call that there has already been a regionalization of IS influence in the region," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

The term "foreign terrorist fighters" is used to refer to radicalized individuals who travel to conflict zones in the Middle East to fight with terrorist groups in countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya, and who pose security risks if they return to their countries of origin or nearby countries.

"The presence of Malaysian, Indonesian and other foreign fighters among the Philippine rebels has underscored the real danger posed by a situation like Marawi, which could serve as a foothold for IS that could seek to recruit aspiring jihadists from across the region," said Amy Searight, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense.

It was worsened by terrorist propaganda that uses internet and social media for terrorism-related purposes, as well as acts of public justification of terrorism intended to incite terrorist acts.

Democracy, according to Indonesian law expert Todung Mulya Lubis, has opened the doors for everyone -- rebels, conservatives and mainstreams, as well as radicals and fundamentalists -- with modern, sophisticated technology, such as social media, to express their view or disseminate propaganda.

"This is the time when you see connectivity among terrorist organizations with all of the technology they have," Lubis said.

"And social media is a media where there are no police, no prosecutors, no judges and even, no God there. Everyone can write everything," he added, stressing how international terrorist networks have easily recruited

Creativity supported by a strong leadership by all the countries in ASEAN, Lubis said, is very much needed to deal with the terrorists' creativity because "the borders are not any longer significant."

"The fight is not a traditional fight. This is a very untraditional one and we need to be more creative, more solid in our joint efforts to fight in securing our region," he said.