Online extremists increasingly using AI, social media platforms to plot attacks: ASIO boss

Eleanor Campbell NCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Australia’s top security chief has lashed social media companies for not doing enough to curb rising extremism online, warning of an uptick in activity from racists and nationalists using popular digital platforms to share “vile” propaganda and incite real-world acts of violence.

ASIO director-general of security Mike Burgess will urge tech giants to work with intelligence agencies to crackdown on the spread of terrorist content through encrypted messaging.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Mr Burgess will also warn of the rising misuse of generative artificial intelligence by criminals to plot and plan acts of extreme violence.

“We are aware of offshore extremists already asking a commercially available AI program for advice on building weapons and attack planning,” he will say.

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“The internet is [already]… the world’s most potent incubator of extremism. AI is likely to make radicalisation easier and faster.”

Australia introduced laws in 2018 to allow law enforcement and security agencies to request or compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted data.

Telegram is the top-ranked digital platform linked with terrorist and violent extremist material ahead of Google’s YouTube, X, Meta-owned Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

In December, Meta revealed it had began a global rollout of default end-to-end encryption for messages and calls across its Facebook and Messenger platforms.

Mr Burgess said ASIO had investigated a group of Australian citizens who used an encrypted messaging chatroom to communicate with offshore extremists, disseminate propaganda, and discuss tips on how to build homemade weapons and ways to start a “race war”.

He warned that advances in end-to-end encrypted technologies has stifled intelligence agencies ability to monitor terrorist-related activities.

“In effect, unaccountable encryption is like building a safe room for terrorists and spies, a secure place where they can plot and plan,” Mr Burgess will say.

Camera IconAFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said he has appealed to social media companies to improve children’s safety online. NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

The warnings come amid heightened tensions between the Albanese government and Elon Musk’s X, which has been locked in a court battle with Australia’s e-safety regulator after it refused to remove violent content from a Sydney church stabbing off its platform.

AFP Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw on Wednesday said a large number of children using popular social media websites are vulnerable to being radicalised by “extremist poison” through online chatrooms.

“Social media companies are refusing to snuff out the social combustion on their platforms,” Mr Kershaw will say.

“Instead of putting out the embers that start on their platforms, their indifference and defiance is pouring accelerant on the flames.”

Originally published as Online extremists increasingly using AI, social media platforms to plot attacks: ASIO boss

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