Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

U.K. Urges Facebook, Google to Tackle Terrorist Propaganda

  • Home Secretary Amber Rudd also met with Microsoft, Twitter
  • Tech companies pledge forum to respond to terrorist content

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd urged social media and technology companies to do more to identify and eliminate terrorist content from the internet, after a meeting in London with officials from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

“We focused on the issue of access to terrorist propaganda online and the very real and evolving threat it poses,” Rudd said in an emailed statement after the meeting late Thursday. “I said I wanted to see this tackled head-on.”

Amber Rudd

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The government is concerned that material readily available on the internet, including bomb-making manuals and Islamic State videos could radicalize Britons and inspire attacks such as last week’s car-and-knife assault by Khalid Masood, who killed four people on Westminster Bridge and at the U.K. Parliament in London. 

As well as the technology giants, a number of smaller companies attended Thursday’s meeting, though the Home Office declined to name them. Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Twitter Inc. put out a statement after the meeting saying they already share “best practices” on tackling extreme content, and pledging to “urgently improve that collaboration, with appropriate transparency and civil society involvement.”
“Our companies are committed to making our platforms a hostile space for those who seek to do harm, and we have been working on this issue for several years,” the companies said. “We share the government’s commitment to ensuring terrorists do not have a voice online.”

‘Further and Faster’

The companies said they would form a forum aiming to develop further technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda and to help newer companies do so too.

“In taking forward this work I’d like to see the industry to go further and faster in not only removing online terrorist content but stopping it going up in the first place,” Rudd said. “I’d also like to see more support for smaller and emerging platforms to do this as well, so they can no longer be seen as an alternative shop floor by those who want to do us harm.”

After the U.K. press disclosed Masood had used WhatsApp shortly before he began his attack, Rudd also raised the issue of encryption with the tech companies, saying there should be no safe spaces for terrorists to communicate. That matter will be discussed further through separate talks, her office said.

“I am clear that government and industry need to work more closely together on this issue so that law enforcement and the intelligence agencies can get access to the data they need to keep us safe,” Rudd said.

Spreading Poison

The results of Thursday’s meeting are “all a bit lame” and the government and technology companies should “get on” with removing extreme content from the internet, according to Yvette Cooper, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker who chairs Parliament’s cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee.

“Social media and the internet can be a fantastic force for immense good, but they also need to get their act together and stop the dangerous illegal poison spreading online,” Cooper said in an emailed statement. “Having meetings about meetings just isn’t good enough when there is still illegal terrorist recruitment propaganda up online. They need to get on with taking it down, and to say what resources they will put into doing this.”

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