Social media in the firing line in battle to stamp out terrorism

The tech world is being urged to try and help in stopping terrorists who might be using social media to recruit, communicate and plan attacks.

The new frontline in the cyber war
The new frontline in the cyber war

As the American Senate is about to introduce the social media terrorist activity bill that will force large social media outfits to notify federal authorities of online terrorist activity, Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman has called for technology companies to work on tools to disrupt terrorism, giving the example of a hate speech "spell-checker".

With deadly attacks in Paris last month and in San Bernardino, California last week, the tech world is being urged to try and help in stopping terrorists who might be using social media to communicate, recruit and plan more attacks.

Writing in the New York Times, Schmidt said using technology to automatically filter-out extremist material from social media would "de-escalate tensions on social media" and "remove videos before they spread".

On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the US government wanted to avoid "the urge to trample a bunch of civil liberties". Agreeing with this, Schmidt insisted that censorship and invasions of privacy would not solve the situation.

"We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media, sort of like spell-checkers but for hate and harassment. We should target social accounts for terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and remove videos before they spread, or help those countering terrorist messages to find their voice,” Schmidt wrote. "Without this type of leadership from government, from citizens, from tech companies, the Internet could become a vehicle for further disaggregation of poorly built societies, and the empowerment of the wrong people, and the wrong voices."

Also urging action was Senator Dianne Feinstein who wants to reintroduce the legislation to the senate as soon as Monday, explaining the attack on San Bernadino is “essentially the largest attack since 9/11". Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein said the attack in her home state showed "We are in a different age."

The New York Post reported yesterday that Google, Facebook and Twitter have joined forces to step up the war against online propaganda designed to help recruit extremist Islamic fundamentalists to the cause. It has been said they were attempting to do so quietly, so it would not seem like they cooperating with law enforcement to police the internet.

According to The Post, the French prime minister and European Commission officials met with Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies to demand faster action on what the commission called “online terrorism incitement and hate speech.”

Schmidt's essay came as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also called on Silicon Valley to help quash terrorism, specifically asking for tools to combat Islamic State. Giving a speech in Washington DC, the senator said: "We need to put the great disrupters to work at disrupting ISIS."

She said: "Resolve means depriving jihadists of virtual territory just as we work to deprive them of actual territory."

"They are using websites, social media, chat rooms and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks.”

"We should work with host companies to shut them down."

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