It would be one thing if the White House made an argument that al-Qaida’s online activity is unlikely to result in actual terrorism. But Brennan didn’t even do that. In his Wednesday speech, he warned of the danger from English-speaking extremists like Awlaki or Adam Gadahn who “preach violence in slick videos over the internet.” (Indeed, someone appears to be interrupting that flow right now.) Yet the strategy doesn’t devote any effort to confronting those online messages.
Joshua Foust, on the other hand, warns against overemphasizing the role of technology in contributing to violent extremism. He singles out Google's SAVE initiative:
SAVE doesn’t say if technology can contribute to radicalization, but we can guess it does. It’s far easier for extremists to organize, raise money and plan acts of violence using technology. Technology lets them spread their influence over a far wider space than they could without cell phones and the Internet. So how will SAVE use technology to combat that? The extremism they want to combat isn’t an extremism of technology, but an extremism of ideas inspiring action. Technology makes it easier to spread ideas and to perform actions. But if your ideas are already so irrational as to inspire horrific acts of violence, will a little more technology, a little more empowerment and adventure, really undermine that? I doubt it.
Will McCants, for his part, figures that Google's best tool in fighting extremism is its checkbook. The above graph, taken from a paper (pdf) by Clinton Watts, depicts number of foreign al Qaeda fighters per 100,000 Muslims in a country (red) versus Internet access per 1,000 people in that country (blue).