Fighting Terrorism Online: Internet Forum pushes for automatic detection of terrorist propaganda
Yesterday, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos and Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King hosted the third Ministerial meeting of the EU Internet Forum, to take stock of the progress made over the past year on curbing terrorist content online and decide on next steps in this area. Now is the moment to step up efforts on all fronts to make sure terrorist content is not just detected but also removed before it reaches internet users, to streamline and speed up the terrorist content referrals process, to improve transparent and regular reporting from the internet companies and to increase the number of internet companies participating in the EU Internet Forum.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, yesterday said: "Thanks to our joint European and international efforts we are becoming faster and smarter at fighting terrorist propaganda online. We are not only able to detect it but also remove it quickly, in some cases before it even sees the light of day. Our most pressing goal right now is to scale up our efforts so that all internet companies take part – making sure that terrorist content on the internet, no matter where, no longer stands a chance."
Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union yesterday said: "There is a direct link between recent attacks in Europe and the online material used by terrorist groups like Da'esh to radicalise the vulnerable and to sow fear and division in our communities. This type of terrorist content cannot be allowed to continue to wreck lives. I very much welcome the progress announced today which builds on our favoured cooperative approach with the industry. We will now analyse whether this goes far enough and fast enough and, if necessary, stand ready to propose legislation."
Monika Bickert, Director of Global Policy Management, Facebook yesterday said: "The use of AI and other automation to stop the spread of terrorist content is showing promise. Today, 99% of the ISIS and Al Qaeda-related terror content we remove from Facebook is content we detect before anyone in our community has flagged it to us, and in some cases, before it goes live on the site. We do this primarily through the use of automated systems like photo and video matching and text-based machine learning. Once we are aware of a piece of terror content, we remove 83% of subsequently uploaded copies within one hour of upload. We recognize that we can always do more and are looking forward to strengthen our collaboration with the European Commission and others as we deepen our joint commitment to combating terrorism.”
Sinéad McSweeney, VP, Public Policy, Twitter EMEA yesterday said: "Terrorism is a societal problem and therefore requires a societal response. Tech has a role to play, as do government, educators, NGOs, law enforcement, and academia. For our part, we've drastically reduced the presence of terrorist groups on Twitter. The vast majority of accounts are now suspended before even sending their first Tweet. Going forward, we will continue to partner with our peer companies to share ideas and to help smaller companies as they grow."
Matt Brittin, EMEA President, Google yesterday said "Addressing violent extremism is a critical challenge for us all and we're committed to being part of the solution, together with governments and civil society. We've made significant progress in 2017, deploying machine learning technology, strengthening our enforcement and expanding our partnerships with experts. We've improved the speed and accuracy of our removals - today, 98 percent of the videos we remove for violent extremism on YouTube are flagged to us by machine-learning algorithms, up from 75 percent just a few months ago, and we've a goal to bring the number of people working to tackle problematic content across Google to 10,000 in 2018. The EU Internet Forum has played a vital role in driving collaboration on these issues and helped lay the foundation for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, where we partner with other tech companies to curb the spread of terrorist material online."
The database of known terrorist content ("the database of hashes"), announced in the 2016 EU Internet Forum and launched in spring 2017, is now fully operational and has so far gathered over 40,000 hashes of known terrorist videos and images. This number could rise exponentially when more companies start feeding the database. Its potential should now be fully exploited, and data on the number and speed of removals provided to the EU Internet Forum participants. The rate of manual referrals, such as from the EU Internet Referral Unit, also continues to increase.
Major platforms participating in the EU Internet Forum are increasingly developing automatic tools for detection and removal of terrorist content online. Twitter reported that three quarters of the 300,000 accounts removed between January and June 2017 were deleted before posting their first Tweet. According to YouTube, more than 150,000 videos have been removed since June 2017. Once aware of a piece of terrorist content, Facebook removes 83% of subsequently uploaded copies within one hour of upload. It is important that all internet companies are part of this joint effort and share key information on removals across platforms. This is why the Forum has prioritised outreach to and engagement with new and small companies.
Yesterday's discussion contributes to the overall efforts of the Commission to tackle illegal content online and will feed into its assessment as to whether additional measures are needed to ensure swift and proactive detection and removal of terrorist content online.
The EU Internet Forum was launched in December 2015 by Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulosto stop the misuse of the internet by international terrorist groups. The EU Internet Forum brings together EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders to work together in a voluntary partnership to address this complex issue and to protect EU citizens. The Forum has two key objectives: to reduce accessibility to terrorist content online, and to empower civil society partners to increase the volume of effective alternative narratives online.
In December 2016, at the EU Internet Forum, internet companies announced the creation of a shared 'Database of Hashes' to better detect potential terrorist content on social media and prevent its reappearance on other platforms. At the same meeting, the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme was launched to develop effective alternative and counter narrative campaigns. On 5 October, the Commission made available an additional €6 million to further support the developments of those campaigns. The EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme has now trained more than 250 civil society organisations across Europe to help them develop counter narratives online.
In June 2017, the European Council further called on the industry to develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites to terrorist acts, to be complemented by the relevant legislative measures at EU level, if necessary. Following up on this call, the Commission set out guidelines and principles for online platforms to increase the proactive prevention, detection and removal of illegal content online, including terrorist content.
Yesterday's meeting gathered a number of representatives from the industry including, Google/You Tube, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Justpaste.it, Snap, Wordpress and Yellow, as well as representatives from Member States, Europol, the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network, the European Strategic Communications Network (ESCN), researchers from VOX-Pol (a network researching violent online political extremism) and UNCTED, the United Nations Counterterrorism Executive Directorate.
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