Troy University Assistant Professor Dr. Alexis Henshaw is using her expertise to advise leaders from the United Nations and major corporations about the ways extremist groups use social media.
Henshaw, who teaches political science at the University’s Fort Benning location, recently briefed the U.N. Counterterrorism Committee’s Executive Directorate and members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), a group consisting of Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube representatives committed to disrupting terrorist abuse of digital platforms.
The meeting occurred through Henshaw’s involvement with the Global Network on Extremism (GNET), an academic research initiative backed by the GIFCT and based out of King’s College London.
Henshaw has spent significant time researching the usage of social media, in particular with regards to women’s issues and Latin America.
That research gave her keen insight into a growing problem throughout the world.
“The theme of this meeting was how to deal with issues of extremism in social media and how to balance that with concerns of human rights and free speech,” Henshaw said. “The presentation I gave was sort of a broad overview of different ways violent extremist groups use social media to communicate. I used the examples with women as one specific example of that. I don’t think people who are average users of social media are aware of all the ways its being used by bad actors, but also what’s being done to combat that. It’s really timely, because a lot of what we see going on in the United States right now really speaks to these questions.”
For Henshaw, the meeting also proved informative, as she met with leaders from outside the governmental realm.
“It was really interesting. The group from the United Nations, I had participated in another meeting with them a few years ago about women’s issues in terrorism, but this was my first time getting to hear from some of the different civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations that are really trying to think about how to approach this issue,” she said. “So much is going on behind the scenes and not always making it into headlines. People are thinking about these issues, how social media are being used in problematic ways. Solutions are being put out to deal with it. There really is action out there.”
Henshaw is continuing to work with GNET, recently publishing an article about the relationship between women, extremism and technology, which she hopes to turn into a longer report within the next year.
“When I saw this new organization, GNET, forming to look at the relationship of extremism and technology, I thought I could contribute to that, both by bringing in gender issues and Latin America, which I think is understudied,” she said. “A lot of research in social media and how it’s being done focuses on the U.S., Canada, Europe, and jihadist movements in Middle East. I thought I could bring in a different perspective.”