There’s a new tool to take down terrorism images online. But social-media companies are wary of it.


Source: The Washington Post

President Obama suggested that extremist information spread online inspired a Florida man to commit the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando last week — the latest in a long line of terrorist attacks in which Islamist propaganda played some role in radicalizing the assailant.

Now a Dartmouth College researcher and a nonprofit group say they have created a technology that can help Internet companies instantly detect images and videos generated by terrorists and their supporters and remove them from their platforms.

It is, they say, a way to cleanse popular online sites of gory videos and propaganda from the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and Daesh, that can serve to incite and inspire people to commit acts of violence.

“If you could search out the beheading videos, or the picture of the ISIS fighter all in black carrying the Daesh flag across the sands of Syria, if you could do it with video and audio, you’d be doing something big,” said Mark Wallace, chief executive of the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a nonpartisan policy group. “I believe it’s a game-changer.”

The White House has signaled its support. “We welcome the launch of initiatives such as the Counter Extremism Project’s National Office for Reporting Extremism (NORex) that enables companies to address terrorist activity on their platforms and better respond to the threat posed by terrorists’ activities online,” said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.

But a number of major social-media companies are wary of the idea. They say there is no clear consensus in the United States, and globally, as to what constitutes a terrorist image, and they might end up expunging material posted by researchers or media organizations. And, they say, once a database is created, governments around the world will place additional data requests on them — and some countries’ will probably demand the removal of legitimate political content under the guise of fighting terrorism.

“As soon as governments heard there was a central database of terrorism images, they would all come knocking,” said one tech industry officer, who like other representatives in the field spoke on the condition of anonymity because the firms are privately discussing how to move forward. “People aren’t aware of the demands that are placed on tech companies from governments like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

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