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In his 2016 New Year’s message, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, stated that, “[W]e warn our youth regarding the deceitful propaganda that ISIS uses through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. We remind our youth in Australia that social media and the medium of the Internet cannot be a trusted means regarding religious knowledge.” His comments support a religious ruling against violent extremism and Daesh (ISIS) in particular made by Australian Muslim religious authorities.

Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed’s comments are applicable not only to Daesh but also to other forms of violent extremism. From Islamists like Daesh who claim they have a religious mandate for war, to neo-Nazis justifying their hate crimes on the basis conspiracy theories and hate propoganda, the violence is first supported by words.

It’s far to easy for lies and misinformation to circulate and counter arguments won’t always reach the same people, be seen in time, or have the same impact. This has long been recognised in law which is why defamation is unlawful, because expecting the people whose reputation is being destroyed to constantly correct the record is both unfair and like to be less than 100% effective.

We need to recognise that the same is true with hate speech against groups of people, and in the case of content promoting violence and extremism even in the most general and non specific manner. The harm is real and it isn’t fair or reasonable to allow the attackers to continue to spout their poison and expect the victims, or society at large, to continually challenge it. Those promoting hate online should have their messages removed, and if they persist their accounts should be suspended. More importantly, those who advocate violence should have their details reported to law enforcement so action outside social media can be taken. Only through real world responses can we prevent hate speech, the promoting of violent extremism and recruitment to terrorism.

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