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The East Turkestan Islamic Movement

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According to some very recent official Syrian sources, last April over 5,000 jihadists entered from the Turkish border, heading for Idlib and Aleppo. They include an undefined – albeit considerable – number of Uyghurs coming from the Chinese Xinjiang. Allegedly the technical and operational support to this new jihad was provided by the Turkish services and special units of the Turkish Armed Forces, namely the “Brown Berets”.

Some sources speak of 1,500 jihadists from Xinjiang, while others of at least 1,000 jihadist militants coming from that Chinese region.

The organizational and training support for this operation was provided supposedly not only by the Turkish forces, but also by the Turkmen guerrillas themselves, who had already been active in shooting down the Sukhoi Su-24M aircraft and removing its crew from the ground in November 2015.

It is worth recalling that the Soviet plane had been shot down by the Turkish air force for an alleged violation of its airspace.

It is also worth recalling that currently all the Turkish ruling and opposition parties support the “Turkmen” jihadists’ efforts in the Syrian region.

Before the beginning of war in Syria, the Turkmen jihadists had always lived in the rural areas east of Aleppo and on that part of the coast near Latakia known as Jabal al-Turkman.

Currently in Aleppo the specifically “Turkman” brigade known as Liwa al Mu’tasem Billah operates, even though it has been present there as early as the start of clashes. Nevertheless, so far the Turkish population has been represented by the “Assembly of Syrian Turks”, founded in 2013 by the Turkish government and precisely by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Davutoglu.

This is the real “revolving door” of the aid transiting from Turkey to the Uyghur and Turkmen jihad, both on the border with Turkey and inside Syria.

Since the beginning of hostilities, the support for this minority, including the obviously covert military assistance, has been organized by the Turkish NGO named IHH, already well-known to the world public for its operations in support of HAMAS military actions in Gaza on May 31, 2010, with its Freedom Flotilla.

On January 10, 2016, Russian aircraft hit the IHH warehouses in the Jabal Al Turkman.

After all, the AKP itself has ancient roots linking it to a “covert” part of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood which, once the Constitutional Court prevented it from running in the elections with its traditional party of reference, namely the Milli Gorus of Ecmeddin Elbatan, in 1996, quickly rebuilt the Islamist scene of Turkish politics.

The links between President Erdogan’s regime and the Ikhwan, as well as the whole “Brotherhood”, are still very close.

The Egyptian official sources of the oldest Islamist group speak of an AKP defined as “non-Islamist”, but certainly “Muslim” while, at least officially, the Turkish President Erdogan often refers to a Turkish Islam linked to the Sufi tradition of Shamshiddin al-Tabrizi and Jalahuddin Al-Rumi.

In all likelihood, however, this is a media operation ad usum delphini, namely for the inexperienced Westerners’ palates.

And to think that they were just the Italian Lodges of the Grand Orient operating in Alexandria and Thessaloniki to provide coverage to the Sufis of the Turkish and Ottoman military networks and then carry out the “Young Turks’ coup”.

A senior officer of the Turkish intelligence services, Irshad Hoza, was arrested in Egypt immediately after Al Sisi took power.

Moreover, again after the recent Egyptian coup, an Egyptian Revolutionary Council was created in Istanbul, consisting of 81 prominent fugitives all belonging to the Brotherhood.

Hence we can infer that it is the Ikhwan channel which is used by the political and military Turkish forces to support the Turkmen – and hence Uyghur – jihadist guerrilla warfare near Aleppo and throughout Syria.

This is certainly – but not only – to avoid “undermining” the most important point of the intelligence and military apparatus linking the Turkish State to the Syrian jihad.

However, there is another Turkish “humanitarian” organization – more pro-jihadist than the IHH, but usefully less known – called Imkander, which was founded in 2009 to help the widows and orphans of the Turkmen and jihadist fighters in the North Caucasus, now living in Turkey.

So far it has provided as many as 300 million Turkish lira (nearly 100 million US dollars) to the Jabal Turkmen (and hence to the Uyghurs often fighting with them), in addition to four convoys of “humanitarian” (and military) aid between December and January last.

In Febrary 2014 the Imkander leader, Murat Ozer, attended the funeral of the Head of the Chechen jihad, Seifullah Al-Shishani (i.e. Ruslan Machalikashvili) who, after the end of the Islamic War in the Russian Caucasus, had affiliated with the Al Nusra Jabhat in Syria.

Among the other Turkish NGOs, it supports the Turkmen-Uyghur front known as the “Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front” (IBAC), a structure already reported as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 1992.

Before operating in Syria and supporting the “Turkmen” Uyghurs, it had carried out terrorist attacks against some Alawite associations which had always been present on the Turkish territory and especially in Anatolia.

The supporters of the pro-Turkish and Uyghur jihad also include the now notorious “Grey Wolves” (also known as “Ulku Ocaklari”, the Idealist Hearts) that sent a series of 35 aid convoys to the Turkmen-Uighur jihadists – a column of trucks that two months ago was heading for Northern Syria.

The current leader of the “Grey Wolves”, Selami Aynur, was even killed in Aleppo by the forces of Bashar el Assad, while operating with his Turkmen-Uyghur battalion in March 2014.

A Turkish “nationalist”, Alparslan Celik, again operating within the Turkmen jihad, was the man who materially killed the Russian pilot of the Sukhoi 24M aircraft and the helicopter pilots who had promptly arrived to “exfiltrate” him.

However, the foreign financing of the Turkmen-Uyghur jihad has still a strong point in Germany.

Moreover, two months ago, President Erdogan announced that “Turkey would protect all Muslims in the Balkans”.

It is a clear reference to the role that the Turkish leader assigns to the Turkish and Turkmen community in Germany, which is intended to serve as a base, fundraising, support, coverage and recruitment for the strategic link between the Balkans’ jihad, which will clearly break out very soon, and the war in Syria, the real axis of the Panturanic, Sunni and nationalist Turkish development from Anatolia to the Chinese borders.

In President Erdogan’s mind, the Balkans will be an impregnable backline, with the Turkish-Uyghur Germany acting as a primary axis, while the Turkish break-through operations in Syria, designed to unite the Sunni and the Turkmen-Uyghur worlds, will be the “centre of gravity” of this new war which is being prepared.

Germany is home to over 3 million Turks, 2.5 million of whom have the German citizenship: more than 75% of this population has nationalist-Islamist attitudes.

80% of the Turks in Germany live on social benefits and only 20% have a regular job.

No one knows how many Uyghurs live in Germany, also thanks to their historic leader, Dolkun Isa, who is now a German citizen. Probably they now total over 25,000 and are all politically active.

In Northern Syria, the Uyghurs go to live in the villages left by those who we, in the West, would call “migrants”, especially in Jisr-Al-Shugur and Zanbaq, two small towns around Aleppo.

Hence demography is changed when you cannot militarily operate otherwise.

What the Uyghurs shall do around Aleppo is above all the “dirty work” of killing “Russian spies”.

Reverting to the EU and its vain and virtually non-existent foreign policy, Turkey still believes in the usefulness of Turks in Germany, with a view to rebuilding the myth and dream of the Ottoman Empire which, in its dual Islamist and nationalist connotation, unites and radicalizes both the so-called “secular” Turkish Islamists, regardless of their being linked to the Brotherhood or to its most recent jihadist offspring.

We are faced once again with the old historical myth of Kaiser Wilhelm who, with his diplomat/secret agent Max von Oppenheim, the alter ego and foe of Lawrence of Arabia, planned and arranged the global jihad in order to destabilize the whole British Empire and encircle Europe, so as to later use the alliance between Germany and the “radical” Islam as a new German axis for expanding to the whole East Asia, up to China.

It is the so-called Yellow Peril – in the old German imperial sense.

Today, there has even been the case of a Turkish boy, aged 13, born in Munich, who was caught mid-April on the Turkish-Syrian border while he was trying to reach ISIS.

Traditionally, in the past, the Uyghurs from Xinjiang even fought with an autonomous “brigade” to support the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan’s “Tribal Areas”.

Hitting a Chinese friend, namely Pakistan, so as to indirectly hit those that, with their ethnicist mentality, the Uyghurs dismiss as the “the Han usurpers”.

Nevertheless, according to the data processed from “open sources”, currently the Uyghur fighters in Syria – equally divided between the “Turkmen” and the Al-Nusra Front linked to the Turkestan Islamic Party – are approximately 7,000 and are increasing while the other parts of the Syrian front are being inexorably closed to the arrival of jihadists from the West and the South-East.

From a geographical and strategic viewpoint, it is an obvious consequence of the different deployment of the forces involved in the Syrian proxy war.

Other “open” sources speak of “hundreds” or even “several thousand” Uyghurs coming from Xinjiang to Syria, but these figures must be still confirmed.

Furthermore, it is increasingly proven that the Uyghurs use the Turkish diplomatic missions in Southeast Asia for the transition towards the Syrian jihad so as to avoid the most easily traceable crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan and then Syria.

Obviously there is also a large, and often rich, Uyghur diaspora in Istanbul, counting at least 20,000 active elements and arranged between the Grey Wolves’ nationalism and the AKP.

A series of Uyghur associations which raise funds and materially support the Chinese jihadists operating in Syria, both those of the Al-Nusra Front and the other ones operating directly in the Turkmen jihad around Idlib and Aleppo.

When he was mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan dedicated a monument and a park to Isa Yusuf Alptekin, the old leader of the Islamist insurgency in Xinjiang in the mid-1930s.

This is probably the reason why, besides passing a law allowing the military operations of the People’s Liberation Army abroad, China is arranging its autonomous military base in Djibouti, in addition to having ordered recent exercises of its Armed Forces “in desert areas” and in “unfamiliar areas”.

The Uyghurs arrive in Syria up to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, often with their families.

The cost of the journey towards the jihad is very high, approximately over 35,000 US dollars for each family “sending” – money which is paid by the Turkish NGO networks, with their own funds, collected from the German Turks by means of mosque offerings, or sent by the various Turkish Islamist groups to their emissaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan and especially Chechnya.

Obviously it is hard to make precise calculations but, apart from the small share of Chinese “rich” jihadists, allegedly these funds amount to 4.5 million US dollars per year.

However, the point of reference for the Uyghur jihad arriving in Syria remains particularly the Al-Nusra Front, which, in this phase of the Syrian war, operates especially in the Idlib area.

The Turkmen are supported directly by Turkey and the Uyghurs joining the ranks of that kind of jihad blend in the operational lines of that group.

Certainly – as it often happens – this does not prevent an exchange of jihadists between a group and the other, especially when there are significant losses.

Nevertheless this situation, brought beyond tolerable limits, could enable China – “if Assad wants it” (as stated in September 2015) – to enter directly with its troops into the large global proxy war, which is currently taking place in Syria.

On the one hand, China would dangerously break its useful isolation but, on the other hand, it would allow to secure the Chinese living space of East Turkestan which, from Xinjiang reaches up to Northern China’s vital strategic areas that are decisive for its nuclear missile defence and for its e-intelligence and cyber actions.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism

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The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.

4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.

This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.

Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.

The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.

Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth.  Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.

What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?

4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.

The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.

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New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan

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ISKP Uzbek Jihadist

Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.

Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.

Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.

ISIS collage dedicated to rocket attack on Uzbek Termez

The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.

Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.

ISKP Threat to Central Asia

Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.

ISKP Uzbek nasheed performer Asadulloh Urganchiy

The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.

Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”

The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.

Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.

Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.

On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.

Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.

These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.

Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.

Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists

Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.

In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.

Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.

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How Memes Can Spread Dangerous Ideas

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Internet memes are an excellent way to send powerful messages to millions of people. But what happens when they are used for malicious purposes?

Memes have been a means of transmitting messages for centuries, proliferating immensely in recent decades due to their mass proliferation through the internet and their ability to broadcast messages to a massive audience. They have quite a bit of cultural significance and can be based on almost anything, provided they achieve viral status. However, memes have been subject to abuse by malicious groups and actors.

From the Blue Whale Challenge, an internet challenge that resulted in multiple suicides worldwide, to terrorist organizations like ISIS, which use internet memes to recruit young people, memes can be used for malicious purposes. Even toxic subcultures like MGTOW serve as a pipeline towards the incel movement. Indeed, such male supremacist organizations are not strangers to using memes and viral media to propagate their ideas and recruit young men and boys to their cause. In fact, one influencer, who goes by Sandman MGTOW, often posts such misogynistic memes and videos on his Twitter and YouTube channel.

These kinds of memes are easily identifiable by their bias towards a specific issue and their often-political message. One great example of a meme that has been subject to abuse by malicious actors is Pepe the frog. Based on a character by Matt Furie, this meme was abused by the alt right, being depicted as controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The meme was so badly abused by these far-right actors that it was listed as a hate symbol by the ADL.

Memes have also influenced major world events like the 2016 election in the United States and the Arab Spring revolutions in the early 2010’s, which garnered immense media attention through the use of internet memes and viral media. This shows that memes can have the power to influence elections (albeit slightly) and topple oppressive regimes. Being a powerful tool for spreading information, there is also the use of memes for spreading misinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic mediated a sizeable but modest anti-vaccine movement in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. These anti-vaxx groups used social media like Facebook and Reddit to spread memes full of misinformation and pseudo-science It can also be argued that memes were effective tools in spreading misinformation around the elections of 2016 and 2020 in the United States. Memes, while powerful, can be used by malicious actors such as far-right groups and anti-vaxx groups to peddle false information. This has contributed to the US having a COVID death toll of over one million, higher than most other countries worldwide.

The world has progressed quite a bit in the information age. People are able to communicate ideas with millions of people worldwide in seconds. The proliferation if information has never been more efficient in history. That is why the threats that arise from the mass proliferation of memes and viral media are so dire. As was seen during the 2016 and 2020 US elections, COVID, and Arab Spring, memes can be spread to convey messages that can change nations, affect millions (perhaps even billions) of people, and topple dictators. It has become possible for people to change the course of history with a single tweet or a single meme on Reddit or Instagram going viral.

What can we do to stem the massive proliferation of memes that serve to recruit people into dangerous organizations and fill their minds with misinformation? The answer lies in how we confront our biases and how we detect misinformation. People need to be informed about how they can detect bias and propaganda, in addition to using independent fact-checking services. By identifying propaganda from malicious actors and misinformation from online groups, we can stop the spread of dangerous memes before they proliferate.

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