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Platforms team up to fight terrorism


Published: Wed, June 28, 2017 @ 12:05 a.m.

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube announced plans Monday to team up to combat terrorism.

Their plans include the creation of a Global Internet Forum that has one primary mission: make Facebook, Twitter and other web-based services we use every day hostile for terrorists and violent extremists.

Fighting online fire with fire is certainly not an innovative concept. It’s also not the first time one of the leading technology platforms announced plans to fight terrorism. But it’s clear that some companies are stepping up the fight.

On June 18, Google announced four steps. It’s worth noting that Google owns YouTube, a member in the aforementioned Forum. Google’s four steps include:

  1. Using technology to identify extremist and terrorism-related videos.

  2. Hiring more expert reviewers in YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program. Rather than relying on machines and algorithms, this increases the human element in identifying terrorist content.

  3. Taking a tougher stance on videos that do not clearly violate Google’s posting policies, but that contain inflammatory religious or supremacist content.

  1. Expanding its role in counter-radicalization efforts.

To that last step, Kent Waller, general counsel at Google, said, “Building on our successful Creators for Change program promoting YouTube voices against hate and radicalization, we are working with Jigsaw to implement the ‘Redirect Method’ more broadly.”

Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas, is Google’s think tank.

What Waller is referring to is targeted online advertising to reach potential terrorist organization recruits. Recruits are redirected to anti-terrorist videos.

“In previous deployments of this system, potential recruits have clicked through on the ads at an unusually high rate,” Waller said. “[They] watched over half a million minutes of video content that debunks terrorist recruiting messages.”

Google’s steps are impressive, but the level of cooperation among Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube in the creation of the Forum is laudable. Think of it as the CIA, FBI and the NSA actually sharing information with each other.

In the joint statement released Monday, Forum members identified their mission, and suggested that their scope will evolve as terrorists evolve.

Similar to Google’s steps, the Forum plans to focus on three primary areas:

  1. Technological solutions. The group plans to create a shared database to exchange information, best practices, and implement new content detection to find terrorist-recruitment and radicalization content.

  2. Research. To guide future technical and policy decisions, the group plans to conduct counter-speech research.

  3. Knowledge-sharing. Similar to the “shared database,” the group plans to “work with counter-terrorism experts including governments ... to engage in shared learning about terrorism.”

Adam Earnheardt chairs the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.


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