EU police agency Europol recently undertook its first ever “Referral Action Day against right-wing terrorist online propaganda,” in which officers trawled the internet to file complaints about material that may contravene platforms’ terms of service.
The “Action Day” followed recommendations made by the Council of the EU and was part of a growing move towards EU and national bodies removing “violent extremist” material from the internet.
However, as “violent extremism” is a term for which – unlike terrorism – there is no legal definition, it has an expansive scope that puts much in the eye of the beholder.
Indeed, the Portuguese Council Presidency states (in document 8372/21) that the current EU threat assessment takes into account “all forms of extremism that could lead to a terrorist threat or to violence.”
Alongside “Islamism/Jihadism”, it is taken to include both the far-right (or “violent right-wing extremism”, VRWE) and “violent left-wing and anarchist extremism” (VLWAE), both of which encompass a broad sweep of ideologies and activities.
A specific recommendation stemming from the threat assessment was for Europol to use Joint Action Days to target “violent right-wing extremist and terrorist online content.”
However, this is likely to precede action against other ideologies – the document also suggests that: “Where appropriate, consideration should also be given to other forms of violent extremism, such as left-wing.”
This is not the end of it. A separate note from the Presidency (7896/21) considers that:
“Taking into consideration the latest assessments provided to the TWP [Terrorism Working Party], the growing polarization in society, whether based on ideological extremisms or not, seems to be a trend worldwide that may fuel violent extremism. It is also assessed that mainly, but not exclusively, due to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new breeding ground for radicalisation has the potential to emerge.”
“Mainly as a consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, today’s ideological extremism in the EU is no longer restricted to the “classic” VRWE, VLWE or jihadist extremism. Some recent antisystem COVID-19 denier movements have obvious potential for violence; inspired by conspiracy theories, they challenge governments and restrictive measures put in place, by inciting civil disobedience and unrest. Although extremely difficult to label, they need to be addressed since they pose security challenges to EU Member States.”
“Bearing in mind this new reality, it is critical to understand the depth of today’s online threats and the extent to which extremists are using the internet. Therefore, an adequate balance between the improvement of operational capacity and the necessary security requirements on PCVE online activities should be met.”
- NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: EU Threat Assessment in the field of counterterrorism: recommendations (Council document 8372/21, LIMITE, 3 May 2021, pdf) and a previous version: 7171/21 (pdf)
- NOTE from: Presidency to: Terrorism Working Party (TWP): Countering violent extremism (CVE) in its ideological orientations and dimensions, including online (Council document 7896/21, LIMITE, 23 April 2021, pdf)
- Europol press release, 1st Referral Action Day Against Right-Wing Terrorist Online Propaganda, 28 May 2021 (pdf)
- 20 July 2017: Policing the internet: how Europol takes action against undesirable content online
- 29 March 2016: Policing the internet: from terrorism and extremism to “content used by traffickers to attract migrants and refugees”