San Francisco: Pressure is growing on social networks to play a bigger role in finding and weeding out jihadists and others looking to recruit members and plot deadly attacks.
Still, US and European officials are pressing social media to do more following deadly attacks over the past few weeks in Paris and southern California which have been linked to supporters of the Islamic State organization.
A White House statement earlier this month called for “a dialogue” with Silicon Valley and others on the subject, saying more should be done “when the use of social media crosses the line between communication and active terrorist plotting.”
The European Commission has also called for dialogue with the major social media networks.
And France passed emergency measures that could shut down websites or social media accounts which encourage terrorist actions.
Concerns have been rising amid increased presence on social networks of radical groups that seek to recruit fighters and communicate for planning.
FBI Director James Comey said the Islamic State organization, also known by the acronym ISIL, “has persistently used the Internet to communicate, and its widespread reach through the Internet and social media is most concerning.”
Comey said that through social media, “the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago.”
In Congress, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr proposed legislation to require online communications services to report potential terrorist activity.
“That information can be the key to identifying and stopping terrorist recruitment or a terrorist attack, but we need help from technology companies,” said Feinstein, from California.
– Consequences for freedom –
But it remains to be seen how much can be done by networks designed for sharing updates and which have hundreds of millions of users. And some say even if they could help in the fight against radicalization, the civil liberties price would be too high.
“Having government pressuring, or encouraging companies to do more, carries with it a lot of consequences for individual freedom,” says Emma Llanso, a free speech specialist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
An open letter from technology organizations including the Internet Association, which represents major social networks, warned of the negative consequences of the proposal known as the Requiring Reporting of Online Terrorist Activity Act.
Such a law “would impose a new government mandate requiring a broad spectrum of companies to report users’ activities and communications to the US government, ultimately not achieving national security gains,” the letter said.
The proposal “risks chilling free speech, including counterterrorism speech, and also chilling innovation” and “it contradicts and undermines 20 years of federal Internet policy that remains the legal foundation of the Internet’s transformative role in promoting democratic values and free speech worldwide.”
Although online companies are able to detect and report child pornography using algorithms and a database of inappropriate content, applying this to terrorism is more challenging.
“Millions of pieces of content are received every day, making the idea of proactive monitoring and viewing before posting and uploading completely impossible,” Llanso said.