Terror cells on social media to be met by NJ lawmaker’s ‘arsenal’
On the week the United States marks 19 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, has unveiled what he is calling an "Online Arsenal to Combat Foreign Terrorist Organizations," targeting groups which he said continue to evolve in their operations and methods of recruitment and fundraising.
The new proposal is made up of three main components: legislation that would hold social media companies accountable for the accounts they permit with financial and criminal penalties, congressional action against terrorist groups that utilize cryptocurrency for their financing, and a bipartisan effort to curb terrorist propaganda on social platforms.
Gottheimer alluded to the intelligence the United States had gathered prior to Sept. 11, 2001, about a potential attack on American soil and what aggressive countermeasures might have prevented.
"We need to make sure that we don't make it easier for terrorists to purvey their hate and extremism and of course, threaten our country," he said.
Some social media companies have been proactive, according to Gottheimer, but foreign terrorist groups are still finding avenues around their blocked content, resulting in its eventual reappearance on timelines and news feeds.
"I think it's time we cracked down and held those who are irresponsible, social media companies, accountable for allowing foreign terrorist organizations on their sites," Gottheimer said.
The congressman emphasized one particular concern, which is that alternative forms of payment such as bitcoin are largely driving the propulsion of propaganda from these groups.
"They're growing even more sophisticated, using digital assets like cryptocurrencies to fund their next attacks," Gottheimer said. "We have to fight back by truly bringing together an online arsenal to combat these threats."
Jared Maples, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, echoed Gottheimer in specifically identifying cryptocurrency as an ever-increasing threat.
"It is an emerging issue," Maples said. "It's something we're not necessarily hearing a lot about, but believe me, we will in the future, because it will be important to get ahead of that from a legislation and policy perspective."
More than anything, Gottheimer and Maples said, not only do social media companies need to stay vigilant about foreign terror organizations, but so do legislators as well as the general public.