Tech giants ramp up systems to detect and remove extremist content

The world’s largest social media empires led by Facebook say they are ramping up an industry body that will weed out extremist content, looking to put procedures in place globally to grapple with online extremism.

Facebook announced their efforts at the UN during a meeting with New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern, who has taken up the cause of fighting online extremism after last March’s massacre by a white supremacist at two mosques in Christchurch.

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“We are trying to create a civil defense-style mechanism. The same way we respond to natural emergencies like fires and floods, we need to be prepared and ready to respond to a crisis like the one we experienced.”

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube in 2017 formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, a vaguely conceived alliance tasked with tackling the most dangerous material on social media.

But tech companies came under renewed criticism after the bloodbath in Christchurch, where the assailant posted a manifesto online and then live-streamed his killing of 51 worshippers.

Appearing with the NZ leader, Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company took down 1.5 million potential views of the grisly video – at least 1.2 million before anyone had the chance to view them.

“The gap between the 1.2 and the 1.5 is where we acknowledge we need to do better.”

“We can’t wait until a moment like this happens again. We need to do the hard work now, to establish the systems and protocols and the cooperations.”

President Emmanuel Macron of France, which has faced challenges combating militants inspired by the Islamic State movement, has teamed up with Ardern on the so-called “Christchurch Call.”

He co-chaired a meeting with Ardern on the latest efforts as they both attended the United Nations General Assembly.

Strengthening industry body

Under Monday’s announcement, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism will be considered an independent body and enjoy a dedicated staff under an executive director.

While the industry will lead the forum’s operating board, non-governmental groups will head an advisory board.

The governments of the US, France, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan will also play an advisory role, along with UN and EU experts.

Facebook said that the forum would fund research on how best to prevent incitements to violence online and how to reduce the effects on social media when attacks occur. The forum will still amount to a voluntary effort by tech companies to police themselves.

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