Tech & Terrorism: Content Moderation Shortcomings Are Topic Of Tech-Led Counterterrorism Initiative

(New York, N.Y.) – Last week, the tech sector’s largest counterterror group, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) convened a forum of industry stakeholders to address ongoing extremist activity online in the wake of protests and civil unrest. The virtual gathering of stakeholders—which included representatives from 30 countries across government, industry, academia, and civil society groups—comes despite tech’s historical failures to deliver on its foundational commitment to establish clear and effective industry standards for the removal of extremist content online.

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has consistently called on the GIFCT since its establishment three years ago to fulfill its promises to adopt effective industry standards and policies for responding to extremists’ and terrorists’ misuse of Internet platforms and services. The GIFCT’s disappointing track record and inability to coordinate content moderation practices across sites—such as in the case with the New Zealand terrorist attack—puts the public’s safety at risk.

In 2017, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube created the GIFCT in response to growing criticism from the public and lawmakers over tech’s inability to halt the spread of extremist and terrorist material online. The GIFCT’s stated mission is to leverage technology and share information and best practices to help ensure consistent policies and practices across platforms and sites. In effect, the GIFCT is supposed to facilitate cooperation between large companies—which have more resources and manpower to moderate extremist content on their platforms—and small tech firms.

One of the most infamous episodes of the GIFCT’s failures involved Brenton Tarrant’s Christchurch, New Zealand attack video, which was livestreamed on Facebook. On March 15, 2019, Tarrant killed 51 and wounded dozens of others in shooting attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch. Despite its intial takedown, Tarrant’s video was still reuploaded millions of times across the entire Internet. On Facebook alone, it was reuploaded 1.5 million times. The industry’s spectacular failure to stop the livestream of the Christchurch mosque shootings and halt reuploads of the video makes it clear that the time and resources spent on this coalition has amounted to very little. One year after the shooting, CEP still was able to easily locate the video online, including on both Google Drive and Internet Archive.

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