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Social media companies launch upload filter to combat extremism       printable version
05 Apr 2017: posted by the editor - Internet news

by Matthias Monroy, B├╝rgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP, Germany
A database set up jointly by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube aims to identify “terrorist and radicalising” content automatically and to remove it from these platforms.

The prototype of a mechanism to prevent the publication of violent terrorist content on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter commenced operations last week. This was announced by European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who met representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on 10 March in order to discuss the progress made so far with regard to the “removal of terrorist content online”.

It appears that no research whatsoever has been done on the likely impact of this initiative, including no review mechanisms on its impact and no way of establishing whether the initiative has counter-productive effects.

This prototype is a database operated jointly by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft that gathers “digital fingerprints” (hashes) of content marked as “terrorist” or “extremist”. Once designated as such, photos or videos can, in theory, no longer be uploaded to these platforms. The upload filters are intended to ensure that undesirable content is identified and removed more swiftly. The role of judicial and law enforcement authorities in this process has, unsurprisingly, not been mentioned.

The participating companies are part of what is known as the EU Internet Forum. With this initiative, the European Commission intends to encourage internet companies to, among other things, monitor content on their platforms more intensively, outside of an accountable, law-based environment.

Alongside the removal of content online, the EU Internet Forum discusses further measures in the area of cyber security and the production of electronic evidence. The ministers of the interior of the EU member states are calling for greater numbers of direct inquiries to be submitted to companies in the future, thereby circumventing the often laborious route that is international judicial assistance.

This primarily applies to the operators of cloud servers in the US. The Commission is currently assessing whether US companies could fall under the remit of the European Investigation Order. This directive could be extended to include operators that, while headquartered in a third country, offer their services in the European Union.

Since the establishment of the EU Internet Forum in December 2015, access by investigative authorities to encrypted telecommunication has been on the agenda. According to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the European Commission had initially kept a low profile in this area. According to a Commission press release, the issue of encryption was, however, discussed at the last meeting of the Forum.

The EU’s Counter-terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, who has called for assistance with decryption by companies in a number of papers over the last two years, was also in attendance. His post was established in order to present new priority areas for action with respect to fighting terrorism and extremism on a biannual basis.

Likewise, under the umbrella of the EU Internet Forum, the Commission is currently launching an EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme (CSEP). This is overseen by the European Commission’s Radical Awareness Network (RAN), which became fully operational as a “Centre of Excellence” in 2016.

In previous press releases, the Commission announced that the programme would receive financial support to the tune of ten million euros. It is intended to help “civil society, grassroots groups and credible voices” to fill the internet with “alternative narratives”. A particular focus is on “capacity and/or resources” for disseminating messages to achieve this end. The aim here is for participants to develop campaigns in cooperation with internet companies.

Little information is available regarding the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme. On the Commission’s website, it appears that an opening event was to take place at the beginning of March 2017, attended by internet companies, “marketing experts” and “civil society”.

Following this event, campaigns were launched, but no details have been disclosed. In 2016, it was announced that Twitter could accord “counter-narratives” greater visibility without charging the usual fee for this service.

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