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October 19, 2015

Ex-MI6 chief warns of social media terrorist threat

News: Richard Barrett called for new laws to tackle extremism online.

By Charlotte Henry

Former MI6 director Richard Barrett used an appearance at the London First Global Resilience Conference to highlight the propaganda potential terrorists now have, thanks to social media. He declared tools such as Twitter the biggest cyber threat to the UK.

While the police and security services are still trying to defend against cyber attacks aimed at critical infrastructure, Barrett highlighted the ability of extremists to use social media to incite violence.

He gave the example of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who he said was "believed to have been behind the pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account @ShamiWitness."

Prior to being arrested in India in 2014, Biswas was thought to have posted 140,000 posts to Twitter, where he encouraged his large follower base towards violence. The account had around 18,000 followers when it was shut down.

Barrett said: "That is a big propaganda output, with most of it around themes that its followers are responding to – like judicial order, economic success, religious piety and social justice,"

He went on to call for new legislation to tackle this, which raises concerns over privacy and freedom of speech. The government is today laying out new counter terrorism proposals.

Having left the UK secret services, Barret now works as Senior Vice President at The Soufan Group, and holds various fellowships, including at the Royal United Services institute.

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