As families in Christchurch bury their loved ones following Friday’s terrorist attack, global attention now turns to preventing such a thing ever happening again.
In particular, the role social media played in broadcasting live footage and amplifying its reach is under the microscope. Facebook and YouTube face intense scrutiny.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reportedly been in contact with Facebook executives to press the case that the footage should not available for viewing. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a moratorium on amateur livestreaming services.
But beyond these immediate responses, this terrible incident presents an opportunity for longer term reform. It’s time for social media platforms to be more open about how livestreaming works, how it is moderated, and what should happen if or when the rules break down.
With the alleged perpetrator apparently flying under the radar prior to this incident in Christchurch, our collective focus is now turned to the online radicalisation of young men.
As part of that, online platforms face increased scrutiny and Facebook and Youtube have drawn criticism.
After dissemination of the original livestream occurred on Facebook, YouTube became a venue for the re-upload and propagation of the recorded footage.
Both platforms have made public statements about their efforts at moderation.
YouTube noted the challenges of dealing with an “unprecedented volume” of uploads.
In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload […]
Focusing chiefly on live-streaming is somewhat reductive. Although the shooter initially streamed his own footage, the greater challenge of controlling the video largely relates to two issues:
These issues illustrate the weaknesses of existing content moderation policies and practices.
Content moderation is a complex and unenviable responsibility. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube are expected to balance the virtues of free expression and newsworthiness with socio-cultural norms and personal desires, as well as the local regulatory regimes of the countries they operate in.
When platforms perform this responsibility poorly (or, utterly abdicate it) they pass on the task to others — like the New Zealand Internet Service Providers that blocked access to websites that were re-distributing the shooter’s footage.
People might reasonably expect platforms like Facebook and YouTube to have thorough controls over what is uploaded on their sites. However, the companies’ huge user bases mean they often must balance the application of automated, algorithmic systems for content moderation (like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, and YouTube’s ContentID) with teams of human moderators.
We know from investigative reporting that the moderation teams at platforms like Facebook and YouTube are tasked with particularly challenging work. They seem to have a relatively high turnover of staff who are quickly burnt-out by severe workloads while moderating the worst content on the internet. They are supported with only meagre wages, and what could be viewed as inadequate mental healthcare.
And while some algorithmic systems can be effective at scale, they can also be subverted by competent users who understand aspects of their methodology. If you’ve ever found a video on YouTube where the colours are distorted, the audio playback is slightly out of sync, or the image is heavily zoomed and cropped, you’ve likely seen someone’s attempt to get around ContentID algorithms.
For online platforms, the response to terror attacks is further complicated by the difficult balance they must strike between their desire to protect users from gratuitous or appalling footage with their commitment to inform people seeking news through their platform.
We must also acknowledge the other ways livestreaming features in modern life. Livestreaming is a lucrative niche entertainment industry, with thousands of innocent users broadcasting hobbies with friends from board games to mukbang (social eating), to video games. Livestreaming is important for activists in authoritarian countries, allowing them to share eyewitness footage of crimes, and shift power relationships. A ban on livestreaming would prevent a lot of this activity.
Facebook and YouTube’s challenges in addressing the issue of livestreamed hate crimes tells us something important. We need a more open, transparent approach to moderation. Platforms must talk openly about how this work is done, and be prepared to incorporate feedback from our governments and society more broadly.
A good place to start is the Santa Clara principles, generated initially from a content moderation conference held in February 2018 and updated in May 2018. These offer a solid foundation for reform, stating:
A more socially responsible approach to platforms’ roles as moderators of public discourse necessitates a move away from the black-box secrecy platforms are accustomed to — and a move towards more thorough public discussions about content moderation.
In the end, greater transparency may facilitate a less reactive policy landscape, where both public policy and opinion have a greater understanding around the complexities of managing new and innovative communications technologies.
In the aftermath of the tragic loss of life in Christchurch on Friday, the focus needs to be on supporting those who have lost their loved ones and on fostering a sense of national unity in the face of an heinous act of terrorism.
At this early stage we know the perpetrator of the most devastating terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history was a white supremacist. We know he accessed and stockpiled firearms over a long period of time, and that his racist beliefs motivated his actions.
But there are other lessons and important points to make about the attack. These should shape the longer-term response by the New Zealand government.
The first is a more sustained governmental and societal focus on right-wing extremism. It may turn out that the extremist who committed this attack acted alone, but the ideology that motivated him has spread around the globe and is infecting our politics and discourse.
We know right-wing radicals have committed atrocities before. The most notable perhaps was an extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. But this is part of a long history of extremist violence on the right.
According to research by the Anti-Defamation League, over the last decade, 73.3% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US could be linked to domestic right-wing extremists, while 23.4% were attributable to Islamist extremists. We should pay attention to these statistics in New Zealand. The fear that jihadist terrorism will occur sometime in New Zealand is real, but we haven’t adequately recognised the threat from neofascist ideology.
It is a tragic footnote to this story that globally Muslims have been by far the most victimised group by terrorism in the post-9/11 era. In a 2011 report, the US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), said:
In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82% and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.
Clearly, we need to do more to protect Muslim communities from acts of violence and to focus more tightly on the ideology of fascism, which underpins both right-wing groups and those who commit violence in the name of Islam.
A second lesson relates to the process of radicalisation. We need to better understand why people who commit mass murder fall into a set of hateful beliefs. This is clearly a serious social problem caused by many variables, including demographic change, inequality, poverty and lack of education.
The latest research on radicalisation suggests many of those responsible for “lone wolf” acts are socially illiterate and have fallen out of the mainstream of society. They often indicate these beliefs via social media, suggesting we could do more to report these viewpoints to authorities.
Radicals also tend to share a set of psychological or cognitive traits that underpin their actions. According to recent reports by the European Institute for Peace these include grievances that are galvanised by a unifying ideology, a process of cognitive “de-pluralisation”, in which they tend to focus on a very limited set of ideas to interpret the world, and confirmation bias, where events are re-packaged into existing beliefs and assumptions.
Other research shows radicals climb a “staircase” to violent acts involving a series of incremental steps over a period of years. This suggests earlier intervention will be the key to having people back away from violence.
Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalisation.
A third lesson is that global communications technology is providing a breeding ground for extremism and hatred. In this sense “lone wolves” aren’t acting alone. They are connected to a structured and well-financed global neo-Nazi ideology that uses the internet to propagate its beliefs.
According to a recent report by the Data & Society Research Institute, far-right actors are regularly spreading white supremacist thought, Islamophobia and misogyny on the internet through sites such as 4chan and 8chan.
Right-wing groups have regularly circulated propaganda within social media channels and have sown racial and ethnically charged divisions within society through memes and disinformation. This was a tactic of the far right in the US elections in 2016, and has been used regularly since, including in the Brexit debates.
These websites aren’t easy to take down. As recent efforts by Google show, neo-Nazi sites that are blocked or banned “go dark” behind encrypted platforms that are out of reach of tech companies and security services.
Timothy Snyder, a renowned holocaust historian, notes this form of “mass manipulation” is based on appealing to emotions rather than reason. The spread of fake news and propaganda on the internet creates a perfect platform to increase fear, anger and anxiety. These are the psychological conditions from which acts of violence are committed.
The final lesson is a wider, political one for New Zealand. There has undoubtedly been a tendency in some quarters of New Zealand politics to assume we are living in a largely benign international environment. This is part of a troubling isolationist tendency in New Zealand politics that contributes to us not taking security seriously and investing in it accordingly. The Christchurch attacks have shattered these illusions.
The right-wing problem in New Zealand has historical roots. White pride marches have taken place in Christchurch on numerous occasions. A far-right candidate who was convicted of firebombing a marae (Māori meeting place) stood for mayor three times in recent years, most recently in 2013 when he received a small but significant number of votes.
On the international stage we need to stand up against the beliefs that underpin right-wing extremism. Jacinda Ardern’s call to Donald Trump to be compassionate to Muslims was a good start and reminds us racism at the top of society can create a permissive environment for extremism.
We also need to reorient our foreign and security policy towards de-radicalisation processes both domestically and internationally. The UK’s Prevent programme, which has seen a big increase in efforts to prevent right-wing extremism, may be a good model to follow.
New Zealanders now know the fear and chaos that follows terrorism. But the goal of terrorism is to use that fear to undermine our democracy and way of life. So we need to channel our response in a way that protects our values.
We must be aware of the perils of over-reacting, but nevertheless need to redouble our efforts to create multi-level, evidence-led strategies to target radicalism, recognising global and local drivers of extremism.
Two basic rules of media ethics apply to the coverage of terrorism: avoid giving unnecessary oxygen to the terrorist, and avoid unnecessarily violating standards of public decency.
The way to do this is to apply a test of necessity: what is necessary to publish to give the public a sufficiently comprehensive account of what has happened?
Significant elements in the Australian media – mainly commercial television, the online platform of News Corp and that company’s broadsheet, The Australian – failed to adhere to these basic rules in their coverage of the Christchurch massacre.
The television channels were particularly culpable.
They broadcast segments of the footage supplied by the terrorist showing him getting his gun from the back of his car and then firing as he walked towards the front door of one of the mosques. The backs of three men were visible in the doorway. Scenes from inside the mosque after the killings were also shown.
Sky News, also owned by News Corp, showed some of this footage repeatedly.
It came from a camera mounted on the terrorist’s head and was obviously designed for propaganda purposes: to glorify this act of barbarism, to inspire weak-minded people to copy it, and to sow fear in the community.
The test of necessity would have been satisfied by showing the first minute, where the terrorist is getting his gun from the car and where white supremacist slogans can be seen written on his equipment.
A voice-over drawing attention to the fact that the terrorist was using a head-mounted camera and promoting white supremacy was all that was needed to give the public a sufficient idea of this aspect of the atrocity.
It made clear the cold-blooded planning involved and it explained the motives: racial hatred and the glorification of bloodshed as a means of expressing it.
Beyond that, the use of the footage was obscenely voyeuristic and gave the terrorist the propaganda dividend he wanted.
It also grossly violated standards of public decency. It is getting on for 200 years since civilised societies treated the killing of people as a public spectacle.
Not content with exploiting the violence, some media outlets, notably The Australian, published substantial extracts from the terrorist’s manifesto. Once more, it handed the terrorist a propaganda victory.
It is enough to know that the manifesto suggests the terrorist was radicalised during his travels in Europe and seemed determined to take revenge for atrocities committed there by Islamist terrorists.
Publishing his words of hate was not necessary to an understanding of that.
An influential factor in how this story unfolded was the interaction between the professional media and social media.
The atrocities were designed for social media. The camera footage was uploaded there and so was the manifesto.
The professional media took this material from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which, as usual, had published them in full without any regard for the ethics involved.
The significance of this for the way the story unfolded was that the propaganda supplied by the perpetrator was available to the professional media, even as the story was breaking.
This naturally placed the perpetrator at the centre of the story from the start.
Only when footage of victims started to become available some time later did attention switch to them.
Comparisons have been made between the way the professional media covered the Christchurch atrocity and the massacre by Islamist terrorists at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in 2015, where 89 people were killed.
The immediate focus at Bataclan was on the victims because it was they who provided the first footage – using mobile phone cameras – and because other footage was available from security cameras in the area.
Only some time later were the terrorists identified as belonging to Islamic State.
It is obvious, then, that whoever gets footage out first will have the advantage of exposure in the early stages of media coverage. The Christchurch terrorist seems to have grasped this at some level.
So Christchurch contains a new ethical lesson for the professional media.
While a story is breaking, the media can only go with the content they have to hand. But if the first footage takes the form of terrorist propaganda, then no matter how hellish or sensational it is, there is an added ethical duty to minimise what might be called “first footage advantage”.
Whether social media have published it is immaterial. Social media are an ethics-free zone; professional media are not. The weakest ethical reason for publishing something is that someone else already has.
Moreover, once the professional media have given their authority to an occurrence, the general population is much more likely to believe it actually happened. It is no longer just another mass of unverified junk swirling around the internet.
Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.
The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.
President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”
He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.
“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.
Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.
Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.
Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.
Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.
He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.
Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.
The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.
Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.
“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.
“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.
He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.
“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.
He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.
The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.
In the wake of comments about the Christchurch massacre, members of the public have raised the question of whether a senator can be expelled from the Senate for making offensive statements.
It is now well known that members of parliament can have their seat vacated in the parliament due to their disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution for reasons including dual citizenship, bankruptcy, holding certain government offices or being convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer.
But there is no ground of disqualification for behaviour that brings a House of Parliament into disrepute. This was something left to the house to deal with by way of expulsion.
Section 49 of the Commonwealth Constitution provides that until the Commonwealth parliament declares the powers, privileges and immunities of its houses, they shall be those the British House of Commons had at the time of federation (1901).
The House of Commons then had, and continues to have, the power to expel its members. The power was rarely exercised, but was most commonly used when a member was found to have committed a criminal offence or contempt of parliament. Because of the application of section 49 of the Constitution, such a power was also initially conferred upon both houses of the Australian parliament.
The House of Representatives exercised that power in 1920 when it expelled a member of the Labor opposition, Hugh Mahon. He had given a speech at a public meeting that criticised the actions of the British in Ireland and expressed support for an Australian republic.
Prime Minister Billy Hughes (whom Mahon had previously voted to expel from the Labor Party over conscription in 1916), moved to expel Mahon from the House of Representatives on November 11 – a dangerous date for dismissals. He accused Mahon of having made “seditious and disloyal utterances” that were “inconsistent with his oath of allegiance”. The opposition objected, arguing that no action should be taken unless Mahon was tried and convicted by the courts. Mahon was expelled by a vote taken on party lines.
In 2016, a private member’s motion was moved to recognise that his expulsion was unjust and a misuse of the power then invested in the house.
The power of the houses to expel members, as granted by section 49, was subject to the Commonwealth parliament declaring what the powers, privileges and immunities of the houses shall be. This occurred with the enactment of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.
It was enacted as a result of an inquiry by a parliamentary committee, which pointed out the potential for this power to be abused and that as a matter of democratic principle, it was up to voters to decide the composition of the parliament. This is reinforced by sections seven and 24 of the Constitution, which say that the houses of parliament are to be “directly chosen by the people”.
As a consequence, the power to expel was removed from the houses. Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 says:
A House does not have power to expel a member from membership of a House.
This means that currently neither house of the Commonwealth parliament has the power to expel one of its members.
Just as the parliament had the legislative power to limit the powers and privileges of its houses, it could legislate to amend or repeal section eight so that a house could, in future, expel one of its members, either on any ground or for limited reasons.
Whether or not this is wise remains doubtful. The reasons given by the parliamentary committee for the removal of this power remain strong. The power to expel is vulnerable to misuse when one political party holds a majority in the house. Equally, there is a good democratic argument that such matters should be left to the voters at election time.
However, expulsion is still an option in other Australian parliaments, such as the NSW parliament. It’s used in circumstances where the member is judged guilty of conduct unworthy of a member of parliament and where the continuing service of the member is likely to bring the house into disrepute.
It is commonly the case, though, that a finding of illegality, dishonesty or corruption is first made by a court, a royal commission or the Independent Commission Against Corruption before action to expel is taken. The prospect of expulsion is almost always enough to cause the member to resign without expulsion formally occurring. So, actual cases of expulsion remain extremely rare.
The houses retain powers to suspend members for offences against the house, such as disorderly conduct. But it is doubtful that a house retains powers of suspension in relation to conduct that does not amount to a breach of standing orders or an “offence against the house”. Suspension may therefore not be available in relation to statements made outside the house that do not affect its proceedings.
Instead, the house may choose to censure such comments by way of a formal motion. Such motions are more commonly moved against ministers in relation to government failings. A censure motion is regarded as a serious form of rebuke, but it does not give rise to any further kind of punishment such as a fine or suspension.
The primary remedy for dealing with unacceptable behaviour remains at the ballot box. This is a pertinent reminder to all voters of the importance of being vigilant in the casting of their vote to ensure the people they elect to high office are worthy of fulfilling it.
My research focuses on terrorism in or affecting New Zealand. Until yesterday, my phone didn’t ring that often because few were interested in anything I had to say. Since yesterday, it has not stopped.
There is no understating the horrific nature of the Christchurch tragedy. Forty nine people have been killed, and more than 40 are being treated for injuries at Christchurch hospital.
Three people have been arrested in relation to the mosque shootings. One Australian citizen has appeared in court today charged with murder.
New Zealanders will need to come to terms with this tragedy, vent emotions and frustrations, and they will want to know why this could not be stopped. These are valid questions.
New Zealand is a small country, geographically distant from the rest of the world. It has been happy in the assumption that the violent extremism that has showed itself on multiple occasions on five continents over the last 20 years had never happened here. Many New Zealanders believed that because it hadn’t, it couldn’t.
There was a definite realisation by those in the security sector that this assumption was not safe. The spread of extremism through social media simply obliterates geographical distance and there is really nothing to prevent overseas events being replicated here.
The emphasis was on monitoring and detecting extremism – in whatever form it took. The few arrests for possession and distribution of ISIS related propaganda exhibit that fact. It was not confined – as some commentators have suggested – to just those engaging with violent jihadism.
Another key problem is hindsight. Now that the culmination of a sequence of activities has become so painfully clear, it will be inevitable that several points will be picked out that security sector operators perhaps did see, or could have seen. A retrospective case will be made that therefore they should have seen this coming.
But any sign there was, would have occurred in the context of the day before yesterday. Trying to convince the average New Zealander that anything like this could ever happen here would have been no easy endeavour.
There will be questions over the resourcing and powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and rightfully so. But we must be mature and evidence-based in the conclusions we take from all this.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a review of gun laws. New Zealand doesn’t have a gun register, but there are an estimated 1.3 million legally owned firearms, with illegal firearms a significant problem.
It is not just the law that needs a review. Gun control, monitoring and enforcement will need to be tightened, but changes need to be considered calmly and focus on the individuals that are not likely to abide by any new law. The vast majority of licensed gun owners are not a problem, but they will need to accept that military-style automatic weapons will likely be banned and a national register will become a reality.
New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act was found wanting in 2007, following the “Urewera raids”. Police relied on the act to spy on and arrest activists who allegedly trained to use semi-automatic weapons in military-style camps in the Urewera forest. Then Solicitor-General David Collins QC described the act as “incoherent and unworkable”. Nothing meaningful has been done with it since.
New Zealand is a democratic country in which freedom of expression, conscience, religious freedom and free speech are valued. Any legislative change will need to impinge on these as little as possible, but people need to be safe here.
Regardless of how big and well-resourced security agencies are, overseas experience has shown that individual actors, or small tightly integrated groups can slip through any security filter. It is simply impossible to monitor people’s thoughts, intentions, sayings and social media accounts so closely that every signal that someone might be planning to carry out an attack is seen.
Australian media suggestions of an “intelligence failure” are useful to a point. But the fact that at least one of the Christchurch offenders left Australia a short time ago and was not on any watch-list of concern in Australia, where police and intelligence powers are much more comprehensive, demonstrates this is a very difficult failure to guard against.
This attack was enabled by, and certainly comprised a strong element of, social media. Social media has been wilfully and readily adopted across modern societies. This has happened without much thought being given to its usefulness to organised criminals or extremists to spread their toxic views, or its ready use as a means of sourcing an audience for terror attacks.
As a society perhaps we should take pause to consider the broader implications before rushing to adopt every new piece of communications technology. It’s all very well to ask the security sector what could they have done to stop this attack, when we could ask ourselves the same – what could we have done?
There has been a possible terror attack in Melbourne, with two people confirmed dead (including the attacker who was shot by police). The links below are to articles reporting on the incident.
For more visit:
The recent attack on a bike path in lower Manhattan once again compels us to ask: Why do people pledge allegiance to the Islamic State?
Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the attack, isn’t a devout Muslim. He cursed and came late to prayers, according to acquaintances who talked to The New York Times. So why would he want to be a martyr?
As a professor of modern Middle Eastern history, I have spent the majority of my professional life studying the region, its culture, society and politics. In recent years, I have researched and written about IS and its terrorist activities. While other experts and I have long looked at how radicalization occurs, some new ideas are emerging.
Like this recent attack in New York, many IS attacks around the globe are carried out by individuals the media have dubbed “lone wolves” – that is, freelancers who act without the direct knowledge of the IS leadership. To avoid glamorizing them, the RAND Corporation prefers the term “flaming bananas.”
There are two theories as to why these individuals pledge allegiance to the group. The first is that they get “radicalized.”
Radicalization refers to a step-by-step process whereby individuals become increasingly susceptible to jihadi ideas. First, they cut themselves off from social networks such as family, which provide them with support and a conventional value system. They then immerse themselves in a radical religious counterculture. They might do this on their own, or a jihadi recruiter might bring them into the fold. Either way, the result is the same.
Some observers claim IS propaganda plays a key role in recruitment. Rather than presenting a religious rationale for the group’s actions, IS propaganda tends to focus on the violence the group perpetrates. IS has even released a video game based on Grand Theft Auto 5 in which, rather than stealing cars and battling the police, the player destroys advancing personnel carriers and shoots enemy soldiers.
Perhaps, then, the radicalization model is wrong or not universally applicable. Perhaps there’s something other than religious zealotry at play.
Consider the widely reported story of two would-be jihadists who, before they left Birmingham, U.K., for Syria, ordered “Islam for Dummies” and “The Koran for Dummies” to fill the gaps in their knowledge.
Newspaper stories time and again puzzle over the problem of how it happens that individuals who go on to join IS were found in bars, even gay bars, or had Western girlfriends and smoked and drank almost up to the time they committed some act of violence for the group. The most common explanation is that their dissolute lifestyle was a cover.
After the driver of a truck ran down and killed 84 people in Nice, France, for example, the French interior minister was at a loss to explain how someone who drank during Ramadan – which had ended a week and a half before – could have radicalized so quickly.
A number of experts have argued that the radicalization model should be replaced by, or supplemented with, a different model.
Rather than joining a radically different religious counterculture, individuals are attracted to IS, these experts argue, because its actions reaffirm the cultural values of those who are marginalized, or those who exhibit what psychiatrists call “anti-social personality disorders.”
Could it be that IS volunteers are drawn to a value system that asserts an aggressive machismo, disparages steady work and sustains the impulse for immediate gratification? Could it be that they are attracted to a culture that promotes redemption through violence, loyalty, patriarchal values, thrill-seeking to the point of martyrdom and the diminution of women to objects of pleasure?
In this reading, IS more closely resembles the sort of street gang with which many of its Western and Westernized enlistees are familiar than its more austere competitor, al-Qaida.
After a man barreled down a New York City bike path on Oct. 31, killing eight, President Donald Trump reacted by calling for an end to the “green card lottery” program that allowed the attacker to enter the country.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as it is officially known, has been in the sights of the president for a while. In August, Trump publicly backed a GOP bill that would end the program and replace it with a merit-based system.
As someone who researches the impact of immigration on workers, I believe their plans to change who can enter the country legally is a big mistake. We would be giving up a program that benefits American workers with very little chance of a gain in safety.
While Trump’s tweets about the lottery program are based on security concerns, the usual argument supporting curbs on immigration is that new arrivals hurt native-born American workers and the economy at large.
I’ll leave analyzing the security concerns to other experts; suffice it to say that the risk, according to experts, is very small. Green card holders have killed just 16 people – including yesterday – in terror attacks on U.S. soil since 1975.
As for the economic impact on U.S.-born workers, the key thing to bear in mind is that the more homogeneous and similar immigrants are to natives, the greater the odds they’ll in fact have a negative effect.
In contrast, immigrants who come from diverse backgrounds with a range of skills – such as the lottery winners and the so-called “Dreamers” – tend to produce greater economic benefits. That may be one reason at least some Republicans and most Americans are in favor of keeping the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program that protects the Dreamers from deportation, which Trump recently ended.
Currently, the U.S. receives a lot of immigrants without a college degree or with imperfect English. About half of immigrants fit either description.
Legislation proposed earlier this summer – the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act – would exclude most such workers and reduce the total number of green cards awarding permanent legal U.S. residence to just over 500,000 from more than one million today.
Importantly, it would also change who gets a leg up when applying for a green card. Currently, family of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, including siblings and adult children, are able to apply. The new system would limit that to minor children and spouses.
Instead, the bill would create a point-based system like those used in countries such as the U.K. and Australia that use factors such as English ability, education and job offers to rank applicants. However, it would be stricter than point systems used in those countries, which admit immigrants through other programs as well.
In essence, the plan would make the pool of immigrants more homogeneous and dramatically smaller in number, mirroring the misguided origin-based restrictions from the 1920s.
Those who wish to restrict immigration often cite what they naïvely call “supply-and-demand economics” to essentially argue that the economy is a fixed pie that gets divided among a country’s residents. Fewer immigrants means “more pie” for the U.S.-born, as the story goes.
I am an economist, and this is not what my colleagues and I say. The commonplace argument that more immigrants, by themselves, lower wages and take jobs from Americans – an argument which Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to defend ending the “Dreamers” program – has neither empirical nor theoretical support in economics. It is just a myth.
Instead, both theory and empirical research show that immigration, including people with few skills and little English, grows the pie and strengthens the American workforce.
While all the recently proposed changes to our immigration system will make U.S. workers worse off, the English requirement is likely to be particularly harmful to U.S. workers, especially low-skilled ones.
Indeed, I have found the relative fluency of U.S.-born workers is what keeps them from being harmed from labor market competition from immigrants.
The reason for this is the following. Essentially, immigrants with imperfect English skills tend to specialize in jobs that are less “communication-intensive,” such as manual labor. Americans fluent in the language, on the other hand, tend to take on higher-paying, communication-intensive jobs that are out of reach of those without a strong grasp of English. In other words, these groups aren’t likely to compete for the same jobs, making them more complementary than adversarial.
In contrast, when new immigrants are more fluent in English, something the Trump-backed proposal would encourage, the types of occupations they are qualified for are almost identical to those of American workers. Thus, insisting on strong English skills as a condition of coming to America is likely to increase labor market competition and suppress wages.
Immigration that emphasizes diversity, rather than merely merit, tends to attract more people who specialize in occupations uncommon among U.S.-born workers. And, in fact, this is the key source of the well-known economic benefits of immigration.
Studies by economists Giovanni Peri and Chad Sparber, for example, show this tendency toward job specialization is a key reason the large volume of low-skill immigration does not drive down incomes of Americans. Other research by Peri and Gianmarco Ottaviano shows that simply encouraging immigration from diverse origins lifts wages.
Put differently, there is direct evidence that the sort of diversity that the green card lottery encourages makes all Americans better off. It would be a shame to give all of that up because of a tiny risk of terrorism.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 15, 2017.