Lebanon raises awareness about online extremism

By Junaid Salman in Beirut


This photo is taken from a General Directorate of General Security booklet that is part of a campaign designed to raise awareness about cyber threats. [Al-Mashareq]

Lebanon is working to raise awareness about cyber threats as extremist groups continue to attempt to recruit youth online.

In May, the General Directorate of General Security (GDGS) launched the "So that you do not become a victim" campaign to raise awareness about cyber threats in co-operation with the education sector and civil society organisations.

"The aim of the campaign is to first raise awareness and educate, and second, to protect Lebanon, its institutions and its people from cyber threats," said GDGS director-general Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

He stressed the importance of raising public awareness about the seriousness of cyber threats which can affect "all aspects of life, from personal daily life to the recruitment of agents and terrorists".

He also noted the success of the GDGS in recent years in arresting dozens of individuals who were recruited online by terrorist groups.

Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities Raya al-Hassan said children are vulnerable to cybercrime, blackmail or manipulation attempts, because their innocence can be exploited.

She called for children to be protected via an awareness-raising network based on helping parents forge better relationships with their children, noting that the internet has changed the world and entered every house.

This has led to the emergence of new forms of crime, the methods of which are evolving at the speed of technological advancement, she said.

As part of its awareness-raising plan, GDGS has released a booklet titled, "Information Security and Threat Awareness" targeting schools and universities.

Monitoring terrorist recruitment

Cybercrime is complex and takes many forms, "including the recruitment of terrorists", a GDGS source told Al-Mashareq.

GDGS recently uncovered dozens of individuals who had fallen victim to social media recruitment attempts made by terrorist groups, according to the source, who asked that he remain anonymous.

Because of the role it has played in combating terrorism and extremism, GDGS launched an awareness campaign to prevent citizens from falling into the online terror recruitment trap, he said.

The campaign teaches people how to protect themselves against online recruitment attempts and informs social media users about questionable sites and accounts, he said.

This helps people avoid being victimized, he said, "and helps citizens become knowledgeable about these methods and use the internet mindfully and responsibly".

The campaign's focus on the education and media sectors is because the largest number of cybercrime victims are members of the younger generations, he said.

GDGS also plans to hold lectures and seminars in co-ordination with university and school administrations, during which students and teaching staffs will interact with the GDGS team specialised in preventing cybercrime.

The directorate also posted an awareness video on its website titled "So that you do not become a victim", and is counting on co-operation with the education and media sectors who have a key role to play in the success of the campaign.

Keeping a watchful eye on youth

It is important to monitor questionable websites and find out who uses them to post inflammatory and harmful images, videos and other content, applied psychology specialist Mona Fayyad told Al-Mashareq.

It is also critical that "parents and children build a relationship of trust, given the role of parents in raising their children’s awareness" and that parents pay attention to their children's online activity, she said.

In addition to educating parents about cyber threats, Fayyad called on security agencies to warn the public about certain websites and social media accounts.

She stressed the role of schools in keeping a watchful eye on students and noted that adolescents need to be monitored and engaged in discussion, including those children and teenagers who are not in school for various reasons.

"Teenagers and children are lured on the internet, while adults and those with extremist tendencies search for extremist and terrorist online sites themselves," military expert Khalil Helou told Al-Mashareq.

Terrorist groups seek to recruit those who already lean towards radical ideology, he noted.

Lebanon has been working towards the creation of a national cybersecurity strategy that will protect its citizens and its public and private sector institutions.

This is slated to be completed soon, and is expected to enhance the role of the security and intelligence agencies.

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