British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned Google, Facebook, and other social media sites that the day is fast approaching when they will have two hours to purge terrorist propaganda before her government begins imposing fines.
During the United Nations general assembly in New York on Wednesday, May plans to warn the technology giants and their rivals that her patience is running out over their failure to stop jihadi groups from putting out dangerous messages and promoting their lethal viewpoints. And she expects them to do something about it.
Terrorist content proliferates online – where anyone can easily find instructions on how to carry out truck, knife and bomb attacks.
May has repeatedly called for an end to the “safe spaces” she says terrorists enjoy online, but now she appears to be ready to do something about it. To that end, she will demand that the internet companies develop technology that will block the material before it can be seen online, and she wants them to come up with such a solution in one month — by the G7 meeting on October 20.
If they haven’t made sufficient progress by that deadline, U.K. lawmakers will make them liable for any extremist content that appears on their sites. May noted that any material that manages to slip through the net would have to be removed within two hours “at most.”
May’s demands will be backed by French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.
“We need a fundamental shift in the scale and nature of our response – both from industry and governments – if we are to match the evolving nature of terrorists’ use of the internet,” said May, adding that technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content.
Tech giant Google, which is representing the tech firms at May’s meeting — reportedly said that they were doing their part, but the effort will involve governments and users themselves.
“Machine-learning has improved but we are not all the way there yet,” Kent Walker, general counsel for Google, told BBC Radio 4’s Today show. “We need people and we need feedback from trusted government sources and from our users to identify and remove some of the most problematic content out there.”
Asked about carrying bomb-making instructions on sites, he said, “Whenever we can locate this material, we are removing it. The challenge is once it’s removed, many people re-post it or there are copies of it across the web.” Google claims to have already spent hundreds of millions of pounds on dealing with the problem.
Technology companies defended their handling of extremist content after criticism from ministers following the London Bridge terror attack in June.
Facebook and Twitter said they were working hard to rid their networks of terrorist activity and support.
YouTube told the BBC that it received 200,000 reports of inappropriate content a day, but managed to review 98% of them within 24 hours.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, May is expected to say terrorists will never win, but “defiance alone is not enough.”
A new report out on Tuesday found that online jihadist propaganda attracts more clicks in the UK than in any other country in Europe.
The study by the center-right think tank, Policy Exchange, suggested that the British public would support new laws criminalizing reading content that glorifies terror.
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