Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Facebook Briefed U.K. Government on Counter-Terrorism Effort

Updated on
  • COO Sandberg held "constructive" talks with Home Office
  • Social network reportedly declined to turn over e-mails

Facebook Inc.’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg briefed U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd on the social network’s counter-terrorism efforts Friday, the company said in an emailed statement describing the meeting as "constructive."

In the wake of a string of terrorist attacks in the U.K., the government has faulted Facebook and other social media companies for not doing enough to prevent terrorists from using their platforms for online recruitment and propaganda. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has lobbied fellow Group of Seven nations and European allies to strengthen regulation of technology companies, mandating they remove terrorist-related content quickly or prevent it from being posted in the first place.

In response, Facebook has announced a series of new initiatives, including greater use of artificial intelligence to find and block terrorist content. It is also hiring 3,000 more people to review posts that users flag for promoting extremism, adding to the 4,000 contractors it already has reviewing content worldwide.

Sandberg briefed Rudd on these efforts as well as the company’s increasing involvement with counternarrative, which involves training and funding private groups to produce anti-extremist content. This content - which can range from viral videos and photo memes to direct outreach to select individuals on social media -- is designed to undermine terrorist propaganda or dissuade people from joining extremist groups.

Sandberg on Friday unveiled Facebook’s flagship European counternarrative program, the Online Civil Courage Initiative, in the U.K. The program had previously been introduced in Germany and France.

Rudd said in a statement that her meeting with Sandberg had been useful. "I welcome their commitment to take serious action," she said of Facebook.

Sandberg also said the meeting was "constructive."

During the meeting, the U.K. government asked Facebook to turn over encrypted WhatsApp messages from known terrorist suspects, according to a report in U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail. Facebook refused to do so, according to The Mail.

Facebook didn’t respond to questions about The Daily Mail report. The U.K. Home Office said it had no further comment on the content of Rudd’s discussions with Sandberg.

(Updates with Home Office comment in the final paragraph.)
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