Internet Companies Partner to Combat Terrorist Content

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ionut Arghire

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Major Internet players, including Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube, are teaming up to create a database designed help combat the spread of terrorist content online.

The involved organizations are already engaged in fighting terrorism online, either by removing offending content from their platforms, or by suspending accounts related to terrorism, but the new collaboration should help them better identify terrorist content on their consumer platforms and increase their efficiency in the fight against this global issue.

Earlier this year, Microsoft updated its terms of use to prohibit the posting of terrorist content on its services, while Twitter, which formed a Trust & Safety Council to tackle violent behavior on its platform, announced the suspension of over 360,000 accounts related to terrorism.

In a joint announcement this week, the four revealed that said shared database will contain hashes (unique digital “fingerprints”) for the “violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images” that have been removed from their services, and that each of the participants will be able to tap into these hashes.

“There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services. When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies,” the joint statement reads.

As part of this collaboration, the four will start sharing hashes of “the most extreme and egregious” terrorist content they stumbled upon on their services. Such images and videos usually violate the content policies of these companies and end up being removed from the public services.

The participating companies will add to the database hashes of terrorist content found on their respective services, so that the others could use them to identify such images or videos on their own services. This will also allow participants to review the discovered content against their respective policies and definitions, as well as to remove the content as appropriate.

The sharing of information won’t include personally identifiable information and each company will independently determine what content it should contribute with. The matching content won’t be automatically removed from the other services, it seems.

“Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances,” the announcement reads.

The participants are also considering getting more companies involved in the initiative, in the hope that it would improve users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves freely and safely. The ultimate goal is to engage with a wider community to prevent the spreading of terrorist content online while also protecting human rights.

Although not part of this initiative yet, other organizations are also focused on the removal of “propagandistic terrorist messages present on the Internet.” As part of a two-day concerted action that involved dedicated units in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Romania, “1814 pieces of terrorist and violent extremist online content have been assessed for the purpose of referral to online platforms,” Europol announced today.

The campaign was held at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague on 29 and 30 November and focused on the terrorist content produced by media outlets associated with two specific organizations: IS and al-Qaeda.

While Internet companies and law enforcement intensify their fight against the content produced by terrorist organizations, so do these groups increase their efforts to spread their propaganda on social media platforms. What’s more, they have also “diversified their strategy by being active on several social media platforms and by using numerous accounts to radicalize, recruit and direct terrorist activity,” Europol also notes.

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