Some of the biggest internet companies in the world are partnering to identify and remove terrorism-promoting content across their networks.
The companies — Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube — will partner to share identifying information about terrorist content when they find it. Once a participating company identifies a terrorist video or image, it will pass along a hash — a sort of digital fingerprint that can be used to identify it on any platform, giving other participating companies an easy way to find and remove it themselves.
"Our companies will begin sharing hashes of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services — content most likely to violate all of our respective companies’ content policies," the companies explained in a joint blog post. "Participating companies can then use those hashes to identify such content on their services, review against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate."
Similar partnership agreements around hash-sharing are being used to fight the spread of child porn.
The partnership does not mean content cited by one company will automatically be removed by others. "Content that violates one company's policies may not necessarily violate another's," one participating company said in an email.
"The hash-sharing provides a way for each company to more efficiently review content against its own independent policies."
In recent years, terrorists have become skilled users of social media for recruitment and propaganda purposes. Twitter alone has suspended more than 360,000 accounts for making violent threats or promoting terrorism.
Many of the companies involved in this partnership own platforms that are essentially the modern day town squares; places that host easy to access public dialogues. Removing any content on these platforms is therefore a serious matter, as the companies note in their joint blog post.
"We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves freely and safely on our platforms," the blog post said. "We also seek to engage with the wider community of interested stakeholders in a transparent, thoughtful and responsible way as we further our shared objective to prevent the spread of terrorist content online while respecting human rights."
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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