On Sept. 11, the DHS Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP), joined by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Tech Against Terrorism, convened the 4th Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention in Pittsburgh, Pa., to discuss innovative and inclusive ways of building the capacity of credible, local, non-government voices to challenge terrorism and violence.
Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention are events that convene community leaders and tech companies to generate discussion about activities in the online environment. The forums also provide a platform for community leaders to improve online effectiveness, understand the role of narratives, understand the value of content creation for online spaces, and to discuss effective responses. The goal of the forums is to build authentic, scalable and sustainable local response capacity to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization.
Pittsburgh was chosen for the Digital Forum for several reasons, particularly that it recently witnessed terrorism firsthand with the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018. During the forum, nearly 80 participants shared the impact that the attack had on them, their families, their neighborhoods, and community organizations. The unifying sentiment reiterated throughout the day was that Pittsburgh would remain resilient and is eager to expand collaboration to reinforce its response to terrorism among academia, NGOs, the tech sector, and the government.
To set the scene for the event, held on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Chad Wolf, the DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, spoke to what Digital Forum aimed to accomplish. He underscored the Department’s “whole-of-society” approach to terrorism prevention, calling on all facets of the Pittsburgh community to counter the spread of rhetoric used to inspire violence and recruit and organize terrorists online.
The forums featured prominent panelists whose collective expertise consisted of Narratives in the Online Space; Data, Data, Data; Innovation & Creativity; Tech Talk; and Referrals/Support Systems.
Each panel was followed by a moderated open discussion with an audience comprised of county, faith-based organization, and nonprofit organization representatives from the Pittsburgh community. The discussions addressed the local efforts needed to make the online space less favorable for terrorists.
One of the prominent themes discussed was the importance of and challenges with creating and amplifying content for online spaces that counter violent extremism. The panelists from academia, social service organizations, social media companies, thinktanks, and DHS Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program awardees, highlighted various ways individuals and organizations can expand the reach of their anti-violent extremism online content to make it more impactful.
Technology sector leaders reiterated the common sentiment that communities are the most knowledgeable and best positioned to create anti-violent extremism content that will resonate best with their local audiences. They also said technology and social media platforms can then amplify and bolster that content.
The Referrals/Support Systems panel provided attendees examples of efforts to address societal issues through national and local helplines and service provider networks that are actively addressing topics such as radicalization to violence.
The question and answer sessions underlined community concerns for helping at-risk individuals. The need for greater knowledge and resources concerning the process of radicalization to mobilization and violence was also discussed. Participants expressed a desire for additional Community Awareness Briefings in the Pittsburgh community to broaden local awareness of the signs of radicalization and mobilization to violence to catalyze the community’s prevention efforts.
By bringing the Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention to new locations, TVTP helps communities better protect themselves against current and emerging threats by giving prominence to the needs of states and local communities.
Acting TVTP Director David Gersten wrapped up the event with a promise to continue working with local Pittsburgh community leaders on terrorism prevention.
Previous Digital Forums were held in Santa Monica, Calif. in November 2018, Silicon Valley, Calif. in February 2018, and Washington, D.C. in September 2017.
Carnegie Mellon President Emeritus Jared Cohon opens the 4th Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention on Sept. 11, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Penn.
DHS Acting Undersecretary for Policy Chad Wolf discusses the "whole-of-society" approach to terrorism prevention.