Tech titans take on terrorism – after being criticised for failing to act

After years of being castigated for their reluctance to deal with extremism, some of the world’s biggest tech companies have formed a counter-terrorism forum

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft have joined forces to launch the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism. It follows accusations that the tech giants have failed to block violent extremists and propaganda on their platforms.

Earnest advocates of free speech, the companies have long struggled to balance the principle of a free and open internet, with calls to remove and prevent the spread of terrorist content.

Terrorist groups have taken advantage tech services’ accessibility and wide reach to spread messages of hate and violence

Announced this week, the ‘solutions-focused’ forum will see companies collaborate on best practice policies, investigate tech innovations that could help detect extremist content, and form information-sharing partnerships with governments and organisations, including the UN.

The companies involved in the forum say in a statement that they hope to: “identify how best to counter extremism and online hate, while respecting freedom of expression and privacy”.

Terrorist groups have taken advantage of the tech platforms’ accessibility, reach and ability to easily share information, in order to attract new members and spread messages of hate and violence.

It comes as authorities around the world become increasingly impatient with the lack of effective action. Last year, White House officials called a meeting with Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft on the subject. British prime minster Theresa May recently vowed anew to punish tech companies that fail to take sufficient action on terrorist propaganda.

We hope to identify how best to counter extremism and online hate, while respecting freedom of expression and privacy

This is not the first time that a move has been made to tackle the problem however. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft launched a similar initiative in December; a database of unique digital fingerprints known as ‘hashes’ was established so that any content flagged and removed by one company could simultaneously be removed by the others.

Facebook already has software to attempt to pre-empt the publishing of extremist content, but critics say that terrorists have found ways to continue to post. Facebook has even been criticised for exposing the personal details of its content moderators to suspected terrorists.

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