Countering Terrorist Propaganda on ICTs: The EU Regulation Case

Dr İlyas Fırat Cengiz* |

* Assist. Prof. Department of Political Science and Public Administration Yalova University.

The transformative powers of ICTs are a reality now, which became attractive to specific terrorist organisations for certain acts. Jenkins asserts that the development of new technologies is affording terrorist groups the growing capacity to commit their activities (1975). In the recent wave of terrorism, terror networks began to use the internet to assist with terror attacks (Harrison, 2018). Specifically, ICTs facilitate the growth and development of terrorism to communicate with each other, recruit new terrorists, spread their messages, and incite their targeted audience for new terror attacks, including lone-wolf attacks. Through ICTs, terrorists gain the ability to shape targeted audiences’ perception and to manipulate not only their image in the eyes of people but also the image of their enemies (Conway, 2006). Today, the internet and the crowd-sourcing function of ICTs guarantee that terrorists’ messages reach geographically dispersed audiences more quickly and with fewer dedicated resources than ever before (Amble, 2012). ICTs make terrorists hope to win publicity for their causes and activities. Terrorism as a type of social movement naturally need propaganda and rhetoric framing. Furnell and Warren identify that terrorists use the internet mainly for propaganda/publicity, information dissemination, secure communications, and fundraising (Furnell and Warren, 1999). ITCs are the best agent to frame their message to a broader audience, generating enormous support (Walter, 2017).

Thus, the European Parliament and the Council have recently introduced the Regulation (EU) 2021/784 “on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online” and took into force on 29 April 2021. By this regulation, each Member States take measures to give a removal order requiring ICTs platforms to remove terrorist content or to disable access to terrorist content in all Member States. ICTs platforms are compelled to remove the online terrorist content at least 12 hours after the removal order issued by an EU member state. In cases of emergency, this is even compelled as soon as possible and in any event within one hour of receipt of the removal order. The types of contents that propagate, incite, solicit, or contribute to terrorist offences and provide instructions for such offences; or solicit people to participate in a terrorist group would be speedily removed under this regulation. In terms of a systematic or persistent failure to comply with a removal order, member states may fine the ICTs platforms up to 4 % of their global turnover. It is evident that the EU has introduced this regulation to set out the obligations for ICT platforms to detect and remove online terrorist content from their platforms effectively and swiftly. Also, the regulation allows these practices across to the EU member states to designate at their discretion competent authorities to implement such measures. Significantly, the recent wave of terrorism emerged in Syria and Iraq. It has shown that terrorist organisations started their war increasingly on cyberspace, using slick videos, online hate messages and even an app that all aim to radicalise and create a new generation of cyber terrorism. These are the recent tools for terrorist organisations to spread their propaganda and ideology to thousands of online sympathisers worldwide. Indeed, terrorist groups have actively been using ICTs (such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) for their purposes (Awan 2017). The recent wave of terrorism and its reflections on the Western countries have created a new trend to take legal measures on ICTs for terrorist propaganda. ICTs have become an essential concern in terms of the prevention of terrorism. Facing such current threats in the security system urges international authorities and governments to take new measures.

Although, it is also important not to ignore the criticism that such security threats on ICTs may also cause high risks of adopting preventative measures on the right to freedom of expression. While removing ICTs’ contents considered to propagate, incite, or glorify terrorism, it should be kept in mind that states must comply with international human right standards. The EU regulation, in this perspective, it is obviously out-weighed the security matter over liberty. The troublesome of the regulation is speedy cross-border removal orders for online terrorist content and block for everyone without judicial review in the EU. The regulation does not lay down a judicial review for removal order, which pose the risk of censoring online content that causes no threat. When a member state gives an order to remove deemed terrorist content, it will be applied to all EU members. Such decisions of a Member States about what constitutes as “terrorist content”, on other, with limited scope for the latter to contest and safeguard rights in the case of abuse. As a result, this regulation will likely support the further restrictions on legitimate protests, freedom of expression, and media and artistic freedom.

The European Parliament in the Regulation attempted to secure educational, journalistic, artistic or research purposes or for awareness-raising purposes against terrorist activity, not considered terrorist content. These contents considered as an integral part of the right to freedom of expression and information, including the freedom and pluralism of the media and the freedom of the arts and sciences. However, there is no effective tool identified in the regulation to secure protection for such contents. Especially, a removal order is given without judicial review. Furthermore, the individual has the liability to prove that his/her online content is a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. After removing or blocking access to such content, most likely, the value of the right to freedom of expression is already depreciated.

Reorganising the security system at national and international levels against terrorist use of ICTs is essential to the fight against terrorism. In the last decade, international and national legal initiatives have adopted new regulations on ICTs with specified international standards. The EU Regulation is one the concrete proof of this trend that serves as a model for national regulations in member countries as well as other countries. ICTs’ impact on terrorism is a fact as a powerful weapon that cannot be ignored in combating terrorist threats. This EU Regulation draws an unclear framework to remove and ban excess to ICTs’ contents which might not even cause terrorist threat.

As in this EU Regulation, online terrorist content will be removed with the limitation to the definition of “terrorism” made by the EU and its members. This definition is diluted and exception-ridden and gives rise to further disputes in the international arena. There will be a new cliché that ‘one person’s online terrorist content is another person’s online dissenting content by these political differences’. For instance, FETO and PYD terrorist organisations have been actively using ICTs for their propaganda (Daily Sabah, 2019; Aytekin, 2018). This will remain the same because the EU and its members have not recognised them as terrorist organisations unless a Member State does the opposite. The EU Regulation targets only online terrorist content deemed by its member States with vague legal boundaries and a restraining approach.


Amble, John Curtis (2012). Combating Terrorism in the New Media Environment, Studies in Conflict &Terrorism, 35(5), 339-353.

Awan, Imran (2017). Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of social media, Social Science and Public Policy, 54/2, 138–149

Aytekin, Mahmut (15 February 2018). The PKK/YPG’s Utilisation of Social Media,

Conway, Maura (2006). Terrorism and the Internet: new media – new threat? Parliamentary Affairs, 59(2), 283-298.

Daily Sabah, (2019 JUL 23), FETÖ employs ‘troll army’ to spread propaganda on social media: report,

 Furnell, Steve and Warren, Matthew (1999). Computer Hacking and Cyber Terrorism: The Real Threats in the New Millennium, Computers and Security, 18(1), 28-34.

Harrison, Seth (2018). Evolving Tech, Evolving Terror. Centre for Strategic & International Studies.

Jenkins, Brian (1975). High Technology Terrorism and Surrogate War: The Impact of New Technology on Low-Level Violence. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

Walter, Barbara (2017). The New Civil Wars. Annual Review of Political Science, 20(1), 469-486.

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