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How Google, Facebook and Twitter help governments fight ISIS extremism online

Google Facebook Twitter ISIS

The war on terror is also fought online, where hackers are targeting the ISIS online presence to limit its ability to recruit members to its cause. But it’s not just hackers and volunteers that get the job done. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, are actively helping law enforcement agencies fight against the online ISIS movement. But they’re doing it covertly, a new report reveals, both to prevent the public from getting the wrong impression, but also to avoid alerting ISIS about what’s done to put a stop to extremism online.

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According to an extensive Reuters report, these tech companies are actively involved in the fight against ISIS, but they’re not open about their practices. Furthermore, they’re doing it without providing access to intelligence agencies to the data belonging to their customers.

Specifically, rather than waiting for court orders to access user data, the U.S. government monitors content posted on social networks, flagging and reporting content that Facebook, Google and Twitter can remove. Independently, regular users also flag such content, and that’s how the companies fight ISIS online.

On Friday, Facebook took down a profile believed to belong to San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik. On Thursday, the French prime minister and European Commission officials met separately with Facebook, Google and Twitter, asking for faster action against “online terrorism incitement and hate speech.”

The companies have two avenues for blocking content. They act automatically against certain types of content that break their terms of service, and they require court orders to remove and prevent anything beyond that from appearing online.

“But the truth is far more subtle and complicated,” Reuters writes.” According to former employees, Facebook, Google and Twitter all worry that if they are public about their true level of cooperation with Western law enforcement agencies, they will face endless demands for similar action from countries around the world.”

“If they knew what magic sauce went into pushing content into the newsfeed, spammers or whomever would take advantage of that,” a security expert who had worked at both Facebook and Twitter said.

Interestingly, Google, Facebook and Twitter do not treat government complaints differently from citizen complaints. The advantage for governments is that they can have content taken offline without asking for a court order, and without leaving a paper trail.

In addition to that, there are plenty of online activists that take similar action, flagging inappropriate content, including content that contains extremist nuances.

Unfortunately, the same tools can be used by repressive governments to combat activists from those countries who wish to post their messages online.

That’s why these tech companies are rather cautious to build automatic tools that would detect and remove certain content – such as videos of violent acts – as repressive governments could then demand similar setups.

“Technology companies are rightfully cautious because they are global players, and if they build it for one purpose they don’t get to say it can’t be used for anything else,” former White House deputy chief technology officer Nicole Wong, a former Twitter and Google legal executive, said.
“If you build it, they will come – it will also be used in China to stop dissidents.”

Reuters full report on how Google, Facebook and Twitter help governments fight ISIS is available at the source link.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.