Webinar on “Social Media and Extremist Networks in Southeast Asia”

This webinar discussed the rapidly evolving extremist messaging on mainstream social media platforms in Southeast Asia.

Social Media and Polarization in Southeast Asia

Thursday, 26 November 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar titled “Social Media and Extremist Networks in Southeast Asia.” The webinar was the third session of a four-part online workshop on “Social Media and Polarization in Southeast Asia.” Mr Nathan Shea (The Asia Foundation), Dr Noor Huda Ismail (RSIS, NTU) and Ms Nur Dhania (Ruang Obrol), and Mr Jordan Newton (Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice) presented their insights on how extremist groups have adapted and evolved to infiltrate in mainstream social media platforms and networks, and looked at deradicalization or depolarization programs to combat this phenomenon. The webinar was moderated by ISEAS Visiting Fellow, Dr Quinton Temby.

Mr Nathan Shea
Mr Nathan Shea found that extremist messages on Facebook were focused on topical issues and local grievances. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar began with Mr Nathan Shea’s presentation which examined ISIS messaging and recruitment strategies on social media in the Philippines. In a collaborative study with Rappler, a Philippine online news website, social media network analysis revealed that extremism in the country is hyperlocal in nature, with weak connections to international networks. Mr Shea said that the study found that extremist messages on Facebook were focused on topical issues and local grievances such as the enduring dissatisfaction with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and discrimination against Mindanao Muslims at work and in school. ISIS recruitment and radicalization occurred organically based on these local networks unlike coordinated extremist networks, where individuals (including women) used social media as an extension of their offline networks to engage in extremist activities.

Dr Noor Huda Ismail and Ms Nur Dhania Ismail
Dr Noor Huda Ismail and Ms Nur Dhania Ismail stressed the importance of engaging credible voices and providing a platform to communicate with the public. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Noor Huda Ismail and Ms Nur Dhania discussed their recent work and experiences on violent extremism and deradicalization in Indonesia. Reflecting on her ‘radicalization’ past, Ms Dhania shared that many youths like her are more susceptible to the numerous personal accounts of women living in the ‘caliphate’ on social media platforms. Referring to returnees and ex-terrorists as “credible voices”, she has been involved on the community platform ruangobrol.id and workshops to share her experiences, promote digital literacy and discuss Islamic ideology to prevent violent extremism (PVE). Founder of ruangobrol.id, Dr Ismail stressed the importance of engaging these credible voices and providing a platform to communicate with the public and disrupt terrorist group narratives. An elaborate strategy is also required, by working closely with journalists and activists to tap into existing trends, and analysing social media metrics to increase online visibility and reach.

Mr Jordan Newton
Mr Jordan Newton noted that ISIS online propaganda have declined in quality and volume. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Jordan Newton explored how ISIS social media subculture and communities have evolved over the past 2 years, reshaping the identities of ISIS supporters online. In stark contrast to when ISIS had a strong online and offline territorial presence, Mr Newton noted that its online propaganda has declined in quality and volume, and significant dispersion of its online community due to online crackdowns. Without its key narrative of ISIS’ establishment of the physical caliphate, more reliance has been placed on iconography and visual media to hold the community together. The online community also saw increased openness to engage with other communities and narratives of police brutality and values of democracy to attract supporters. In retrospect, he posited that jihadists now possess stronger international connections which will fuel the next evolution of jihadism.

The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer segment where the panellists engaged with the audience on a variety of issues. They included the socio-economic contexts behind the rising extremism in Southeast Asia, and motivations of young people joining ISIS; the decline in ‘high quality’ pro-ISIS media propaganda products in light of ISIS’ current state; assessment of the different social media platforms’ response to extremist content; and the broader goal of disengagement from extremist ideology towards pluralist Islam.

The panel was moderated by Dr Quinton Temby. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)