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Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants to target content from white supremacists and far-right militias

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Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, YouTube, and other Big Tech companies will now contribute content to a shared counterterrorism “key database,” with the goal of cracking down on content from “white supremacists and far-right militias.”

According to Reuters report, a counterterrorism organisation formed by some of the largest U.S. tech companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, is significantly expanding the types of extremist content shared between firms in a key database, with the goal of cracking down on material from white supremacists and far-right militias.

Until now, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) database has largely consisted of content from Islamist extremist organisations such as the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Taliban because it has focused on videos and images from terrorist groups on a United Nations list.

Over the next few months, the group will add attacker manifestos – which are frequently shared by sympathisers following white supremacist violence – as well as other publications and links flagged by the United Nations initiative Tech Against Terrorism. It will use intelligence-sharing group Five Eyes lists, as well as URLs and PDFs from other groups, such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and neo-Nazis.

Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube are among the companies that share “hashes,” which are unique numerical representations of original pieces of content that have been removed from their services. Other platforms use these to identify duplicate content on their own sites so that it can be reviewed or removed.

While the project assists in combating extremist content on mainstream platforms, groups can still post violent images and rhetoric on a variety of other websites and parts of the internet.

According to GIFCT Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen in an interview with Reuters, the tech group wants to combat a broader range of threats.

“Anyone looking at the terrorism or extremism landscape has to appreciate that there are other parts…that are demanding attention right now,” Rasmussen said, citing the threats of far-right or racially motivated violent extremism.

The tech platforms have long been chastised for failing to police violent extremist content, despite concerns about censorship. Following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol, the issue of domestic extremism, including white supremacy and militia groups, took on renewed urgency.

The GIFCT database is accessible to 14 companies, including Reddit, Snapchat owner Snap, Facebook-owned Instagram, Verizon Media, Microsoft’s LinkedIn, and file-sharing service Dropbox.

GIFCT, which is now an independent organisation, was established in 2017 in response to pressure from the United States and European governments following a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Its database primarily contains digital fingerprints of videos and images associated with organisations on the United Nations Security Council’s consolidated sanctions list, as well as a few specific live-streamed attacks, such as the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

Some human and digital rights organisations have expressed concern about GIFCT’s censorship.

“Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone’s rights on the internet to engage in free expression,” said Rasmussen.

The group intends to continue expanding its database to include hashes of audio files or specific symbols, as well as to grow its membership. It recently welcomed home-rental behemoth Airbnb and email marketing firm Mailchimp as members.

About the author

Brendan Byrne

While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala.

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