Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube partner to counter terrorism

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have joined together in an effort to fight terrorism.

On Monday, the companies announced they were joining together to form the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which is intended to make their "hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists."

In making the announcement, each of the four tech giants firms said they were joining together to meet the critical challenge of terrorism and violent extremism. Each has been developing policies to take a hard line against content it deemed terrorist or violent extremist, but forming an alliance was an effort to share technologies and operational aspects of their individual initiatives to better fight against terrorist content.

The partnership builds on discussions each of the companies have held with the U.K. and other governments, and parlays steps already taken at the EU Internet Forum and the Shared Industry Hash Database, as well as the recent G7 summit and European Council meetings.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, according to the release, will formalize and structure existing and future areas of collaboration between the companies and foster cooperation with smaller tech companies, civil society groups and academics, governments and supra-national bodies such as the EU and the UN.  

While the release said the scope of the group's efforts to counter terrorism are still in formation as tactics by extremist groups continue to evolve, the group did present a platform for what it is currently focused on:

Technological solutions: The companies will work together to refine and improve existing joint technical work, such as the Shared Industry Hash Database – which archives unique digital fingerprints for photos and videos produced by or in support of terrorist organizations; exchange best practices as they develop and implement new content detection and classification techniques using machine learning; and define standard transparency reporting methods for terrorist content removals.

Research: The four companies will commission research to inform counter-speech efforts and to guide future technical and policy decisions around the removal of terrorist content.

Knowledge-sharing: The companies will work with counter-terrorism experts including governments, civil society groups, academics and other companies to engage in shared learning about terrorism. And, through a joint partnership with the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN CTED) and the ICT4Peace Initiative, the tech companies are establishing a knowledge-sharing network to engage with smaller companies and to develop best practices.

"We are working with government, law enforcement and civil society groups to tackle the problem of violent extremism online."

– Kent Walker, general counsel at YouTube parent Google

The forum already partners with a number of organizations – such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anti-Defamation League and Global Network Initiative – in its efforts to counter extremism and online hate. The new group hopes to develop additional shared learnings on community guideline development and policy enforcement.

"Terrorism is an attack on open societies, and addressing the threat posed by violence and hate is a critical challenge for us all," Kent Walker, general counsel at Google, wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times on Sunday. "Google and YouTube are committed to being part of the solution. We are working with government, law enforcement and civil society groups to tackle the problem of violent extremism online. There should be no place for terrorist content on our services," he wrote. 

"While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done."

For its part, Facebook, on a blog post written last week by Monika Bickert, director of global policy management, and Brian Fishman, counterterrorism policy manager, made its case, declaring that its stance was simple: "There's no place on Facebook for terrorism. We remove terrorists and posts that support terrorism whenever we become aware of them. When we receive reports of potential terrorism posts, we review those reports urgently and with scrutiny. And in the rare cases when we uncover evidence of imminent harm, we promptly inform authorities."

Acknowledging that radicalization of terrorists more often occurs offline, the Facebook staffers said they know the internet plays a part "and we don't want Facebook to be used for any terrorist activity whatsoever."

Terrorism is one of the truly urgent issues of our time, Microsoft wrote on its corporate blog. "We are committed to doing our part to help address the use of technology to promote it or to recruit to its causes."

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