Derzsi Elekes Andor / CC BY-SA 2.0

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have embarked on an online crusade against the spread of terrorist organizations’ messages. According to a joint press release published Tuesday, the four tech companies have entered into a partnership to share information about content posted on their respective sites that has been deemed “online terrorist content.”

“Starting today, we commit to the creation of a shared industry database of ‘hashes’—unique digital ‘fingerprints’—for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services,” states the press release, which can be found on Facebook’s website.

Social media sites have a troubled past with detecting radical messages on their platforms. For example, Facebook found a post on Tashfeen Malik’s alias account that pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State a day after she and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, killed 14 people in an attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last year.

“Social media is a tool for recruiting and radicalization by the Islamic State group and others,” Associated Press reports. “Its use by terror groups and supporters has added to the threat from ‘lone wolf’ attacks and decreased the time from ‘flash to bang’—or radicalization to violence—with little or no time for law enforcement to follow evidentiary trails before an attack.”

The companies will allegedly not be in partnership with government entities, according to the news publication Quartz. “The database will not accept hashes flagged by governments and law enforcement,” Quartz reports. “Governments would need to submit formal requests for information maintained in it as they would for any other content inquiries.”

The tech companies will share the unique hashes “of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services—content most likely to violate all our respective companies’ content policies.” Each company can then locate content by the same user on their respective sites and delete anything that violates their policies in order to “curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online.” The definition of what constitutes “terrorist content” will vary by company.

As they begin this endeavor, the companies say they are committed to protecting their users’ privacy: “No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed.”

The announcement of this partnership comes after the Obama administration asked for help from tech leaders in the fight against terrorism. During a summit meeting in Silicon Valley in January, the White House held a briefing on encryption that urged the tech sector to use its technology for counterterrorism efforts.

An excerpt of the White House briefing obtained by The Intercept reads:

We expect terrorists will continue to use technology to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, including using encrypted communications where law enforcement cannot obtain the content of the communication even with court authorization. We would be happy to provide classified briefings in which we could share additional information.

[…] We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology, to threaten our national security and public safety.

The social media giants have independently taken unofficial stands against terrorism before this partnership. Twitter has used its “proprietary spam-fighting tools” to take down more than 360,000 accounts in the past year that violated “its policy on violent threats and the promotion of terrorism,” according to Sinead McSweeney, vice president of public policy and communications at Twitter.

In its policies, YouTube states it “strictly prohibits content intended to recruit for terrorist organizations, incite violence, celebrate terrorist attacks or otherwise promote acts of terrorism. We also do not permit foreign terrorist organizations to use YouTube.”

The partnership will most likely include more companies in the future.

Posted by KiMi Robinson

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