Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter are going to work together to identify and tackle any extremist content that is posted on their platforms. The tech giants revealed in a statement that there is no place for videos and images that promote terrorism online and vowed to build a shared database to support their efforts.
The new information-sharing initiative will use unique digital fingerprints called “hashes” for extremist content, which will enable each of the companies involved to identify and remove identical clips, photos and posts from its own network. They said that the collaboration would play a key role in curbing the urgent global issue of terrorism-related content on the web.
While all four enterprises will work in tandem to weed out egregious and extreme material, it is unlikely that they will share all of their observations. An official statement said that each of those involved will decide for itself about what content should be shared with the new database and how and when it wishes to remove it from its platform.
“No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed,” a shared statement added. “Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances.”
The news of this collaboration has been welcomed by computer scientist Harry Farid, who developed an extremist content program called PhotoDNA and worked closely with the Counter Extremism Project to flag such material posted online. While he said that the development is far overdue, he revealed that it will be difficult to attain complete transparency without an impartial body in place to monitor the database.
Tech companies have been urged by governments to do more to tackle the spread of online propaganda this year, with the White House revealing that it wanted to explore options to deal with the malicious use of technology prior to meeting representatives from Microsoft, Apple, Twitter and Facebook last January. The new initiative appears to have materialised from that growing pressure to act.