Graham Grant.
5 min readJun 6, 2017

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Web giants must pay the price of death cult propaganda

By Graham Grant

HER parents thought Aqsa Mahmood was poring over medical textbooks in her bedroom – a ‘model child’ utterly dedicated to her studies.

In fact, she was sitting in front of a computer screen studying the words of Islamic extremists bent on the creation of a brutal ‘caliphate’.

Prolonged exposure to warped online material led Mahmood, a former private schoolgirl, to the belief that she must go to Syria to join the ranks of Islamic State (IS), and she fled without warning.

Back in Glasgow, her parents said online grooming by English-based fanatic Adeel Ulhaq had transformed their daughter from a girl who was ‘scared to take the bins out night’ to a key voice of IS.

Likening the tactics of IS fanatics to paedophiles who groom children for sex, Mahmood’s father Muzaffar said: ‘They prey on the vulnerable, brainwash the kids, then break them from their families and, of course, it’s all a secret and exciting for the young people until it’s too late.’

The comparison with paedophiles is instructive: the radicalisers prey on vulnerable youngsters in the same way as web-based deviants, while young men such as the London Bridge attackers find like minds in the virtual world.

Mahmood, who would be 23 if she is still alive, doesn’t keep in touch with relatives, but for many months after her disappearance – revealed by the Mail in 2014 – she was able to use the web to spread IS’ sick ideology.

It was only in October 2015 that the Tumblr social media site removed her blog because it breached the US company’s user regulations.

Intelligence experts now fear that European jihadis fighting in the IS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul – possibly including Mahmood – will return to wreak havoc in the West after the terror group’s defeat, a phenomenon they have nicknamed the ‘Raqqa scatter’.

Much of the vile propaganda of the kind that influenced Mahmood has now been replaced by injunctions not to travel to Syria but to cause bloodshed at home, commandeering vehicles and using knives, resulting in the mayhem we have seen in Britain in recent weeks.

Online guidance for such low-tech but deadly measures is freely available; it provides practical instruction but perhaps more crucially supplies a sense of fraternity and reassurance for young would-be jihadis (for example by urging them not to be squeamish about cutting someone’s throat).

It is now an inescapable fact that complicit in the spread of the Islamists’ hate-filled beliefs are the web giants who pay lip service to policing the poisonous sewer their sites have become – but who have utterly failed in the task.

Their cossetted chief executives preside over vast, tax-dodging corporate empires and complain that the sheer volume of material online makes it ever-harder to weed out the extremists.

Yet multi-billion pound social networking site Facebook employs hundreds of young Filipinos – some with limited English skills who work gruelling shifts and say they earn just £1.36 an hour – to ‘moderate’ the site, supposedly filtering out unacceptable content.

They are forced to decide in seconds whether or not to delete videos, pictures and posts which are too graphic or violent. Staff face being sacked if they fail to meet strict quotas that mean they have to assess hundreds of extreme posts every shift.

If Donald Trump were serious about his offer of assistance to the UK, shouldn’t he be cracking down on the US-based web moguls whose liberal approach has allowed extremism to flourish in countless internet forums?

One of the three extremists who carried out the Saturday night slaughter at London Bridge was radicalised watching YouTube clips of a notorious Islamic preacher.

A former friend of the ringleader claimed he used to be an avid follower of American hate-spouting preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril, known for his hatred of the West.

Jibril has ‘inspired’ prospective jihadis to take up arms, and the Michigan-based extremist is said to have inspired hundreds of young westerners to head to Syria to fight alongside IS and Al Qaeda.

In one YouTube sermon, he says: ‘When your brothers in Syria speak, everyone today needs to shut their mouth and listen, because they’re proving themselves to be real men.’

Within hours of the death in Syria of Ifthekar Jaman, from Portsmouth, Jibril sent a message of condolence via a series of direct messages on Twitter to a member of his family.

Against such a bleak and bloody backdrop, is it not time that we faced up to the fact that social media has become a lawless free-for-all, and that the bosses of the big firms in charge have escaped real accountability for the filth and hatred they purvey?

The argument that they are mere conduits and cannot be considered publishers – thus relieving them of the usual obligations publishing firms face – is entirely untenable.

Newspaper editors face strict sanctions including prison over the content they publish, but politicians – often utterly in thrall to the big web firms – have been too willing to accept poor excuses for inaction in the virtual realm.

In 2013, Google was forced to urgently change its predictive search function after it emerged the company was directing users to a sickening video of a man beheading a woman and articles about a vile clip of a man sexually abusing a child.

Unsuspecting users simply typing ‘Facebook video of’ were just one click away from the horrendous material.

Google’s auto-search function works by predicting what users will type in, based on the most popular internet searches.

It is no longer acceptable to argue that such sites should escape censure purely on the basis that they do not originate the material.

Theresa May is right to raise the prospect of multi-million pound fines for internet firms that fail to clean up their act (but why has it taken so long – and wouldn’t it also be helpful if some of these firms actually paid their taxes in full?)

But now is the moment to go further and demand that those web bosses who fail to hold back the tide of hate and poison lapping into the bedrooms of susceptible young men and women, like Aqsa Mahmood, should face much tougher treatment.

By all means, jail those web firm bosses who fail to remove the worst content – and shut down their websites until they can guarantee that the radicals have been banished, once and for all.

The howls of anguish from the liberal establishment would be deafening, and of course such drastic steps mustn’t be taken lightly.

But a heavy price is being paid for the tolerance of an unregulated internet by politicians who seem impotent in the face of the enormous evil now being visited on our streets.

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Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus https://www.mailplus.co.uk/authors/graham-grant