THIS is with reference to the report “‘Digital terrorism’ to be snuffed out, declare commanders” (May 31). The military leadership’s proactive approach in addressing politically motivated digital terrorism underscores its unwavering dedication to national security. This insidious threat, aimed at manipulating public opinion and harming the cause of national unity through disinformation is often abetted by foreign actors. It has been rightly observed that it is done to create despondency in the nation, and disharmony among the institutions through blatant lies, fake news and propaganda.

Besides digital terrorism at home, the menace is actually a borderless entity and, as such, deserves international attention. Terrorists exploit the anonymity and reach of the internet to spread fear, to coerce populations, and to destabilise societies through propaganda, disruption of critical infrastructure, and incitement of violence.

The consequences can be devastating, as seen in the online hate speech that fuelled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, or the foreign interference bid in the last American elections.

International terrorist organisations have also skilfully used social media for recruitment and for spreading their message across borders.

Combating this rather complex problem requires a multi-pronged approach involving international cooperation. It can be safely said that countries need to invest in robust cybersecurity mechanisms to defend critical digital infrastructure from cyberattacks.

On their part, social media platforms have a responsibility to develop strategies for identifying and removing extremist content while promoting responsible online discourse. Educating citizens on critical thinking skills is essential to identify and counter misinformation online. Sharing intelligence about threats and coordinating efforts across borders are crucial steps to disrupt the activity of terrorist networks operating online.

Pakistan can further address digital terrorism by developing a national strategy to counter digital terrorism. This strategy should outline steps to defend critical infrastructure, counter online propaganda, and promote media literacy. Investing in training and resources for cybersecurity professionals is also vital. Partnerships with countries like China, with its advanced technological skills and capabilities, and the United States, a leader in cybersecurity research, can further strengthen the process of sharing information, developing collective responses, and enhancing Pakistan’s ability to combat cyber threats.

By acknowledging the dangers of digital terrorism, adopting a multi-faceted approach, and fostering international collaboration, we can create a more secure and stable online environment for everyone. This collaborative effort will require a commitment from governments, technology companies, and citizens alike. By working together, the world can ensure that the internet remains a tool for positive change and not a weapon of destruction.

Majid Burfat
Karachi

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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