Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube create anti-terror group

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have created a super-team to tackle terrorism.

The fearless foursome currently face a tricky foe: public and government sentiment that their social licence could be revoked if they don’t do something about their respective platforms being used to spread hate speech that radicalises users and incites them to violence, either through posts designed to recruit activists or encrypted messages used to plot atrocities.

Such an enemy can’t just be blown away, so in recent weeks we’ve seen YouTube and Facebook explain how they’ll detox their services.

While those solo efforts have been well-received, online companies clearly feel they need to team up. Hence the announcement of the “Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism” to “formalise and structure existing and future areas of collaboration between our 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.”

The Forum says its efforts will “evolve over time as we will need to be responsive to the ever-evolving terrorist and extremist tactic” but for starters its members plan to “work together to refine and improve existing joint technical work, such as the Shared Industry Hash Database; exchange best practices as we develop and implement new content detection and classification techniques using machine learning; and define standard transparency reporting methods for terrorist content removals.”

Members will also share their research efforts and “work with counter-terrorism experts including governments, civil society groups, academics and other companies to engage in shared learning about terrorism.” They’ll also share the fruits of their labours with smaller companies who may otherwise struggle to respond to terror-related content online, and develop counter-terrorism strategies.

There’s no word on the resources the Forum’s members will bring to bear on the tasks they’ve set themselves. Perhaps just forming the group was enough to address sentiments like UK prime minister Theresa May’s statement, in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack, that big internet companies give terrorism “the safe space it needs to breed.”

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