The U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing Wednesday, on social media companies’ efforts to counter online terror content and misinformation.
The hearing was called in the wake of March’s New Zealand mosque shootings—in which a terrorist killed 51 people and livestreamed it all on Facebook.
A full 24 hours after the livestream, Facebook failed to remove 300,000 reuploads of the attack video.
A week later, and then a month later, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) discovered that the video was still widely available.
Tech’s failure to prevent reuploads of known terrorist content sheds light on the failings and ineffectiveness of the industry-led Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).
(The alleged gunman behind the terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been charged with murder. At least 49 people died in the attack. Courtesy of TODAY and YouTube. Posted on Mar 16, 2019.)
“We commend the House Committee on Homeland Security for holding tech companies accountable for their lack of effective action,” said CEP Executive Director David Ibsen.
“Reuploads of the New Zealand attack video illustrate that the tech industry is unable to deliver on its promises to share information and technology via the GIFCT.”
“The industry’s failure to identify the livestreamed video and halt reuploads on its platforms makes clear how little time and resources have been dedicated to the coalition.”
“The spread of online extremist content must be confronted now, and the sensible starting point should be the creation of industry-wide baseline standards for the permanent removal of dangerous content online.”
“If self-regulating bodies like the GIFCT are unable to establish such standards, the government must take measures to ensure public safety and security.”
During his opening remarks, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson called into doubt the efficacy of the GIFCT—the initiative founded two years ago by Facebook, Google, and Twitter to coordinate the industry response to the misuse of Internet platforms and services by extremist and terrorist actors.
He strongly criticized the GIFCT’s inability to keep the New Zealand video from spreading across the world—a symptom of overwhelmed human moderators and failed artificial intelligence algorithms.
He stated, “after a white supremacist terrorist was able to exploit social media platforms in this way, we all have reason to doubt the effectiveness of the GIFCT and the companies’ efforts more broadly.”
(Chairman Thompson Statement on Countering Online Terror Content and Misinformation. Courtesy of the Homeland Security Committee and YouTube. Posted on Jun 26, 2019.)
Representative Max Rose echoed similar criticisms of the GIFCT, questioning why an organization backed by the biggest companies in the world “cannot get your act together enough, to dedicate enough resources, to put full-time staff under a building” to deal with online extremism.
He further stated, “I think it speaks to the ways in which we’re addressing this, with this technocratic, libertarian elitism.”
“And all the while, people are being killed.”
“All the while there are things happening that are highly preventable.”
Lastly, referring to the National Whistleblower Center’s complaint in May that Facebook was falsely touting a 99% extremist content removal rate and auto-generating its own terror content, Rose asked,
“Why is this still up? We have every right, right now to feel as if you are not taking this seriously.”
“And by we, I do not mean Congress, I mean the American people.”
(Social Media Companies’ Efforts to Counter Online Terror Content & Misinformation. Courtesy of the Homeland Security Committee Hearings and YouTube. Posted on Jun 26, 2019.)
CEP has strongly advocated for the creation of an industrywide standard for the systematic online removal of extremist content.
However, if the GIFCT’s ineffectiveness toward such an effort continues, it is clear that the government must step in.
The tech industry is systematically failing at stopping reuploads of known extremist and terrorist material.
As part of its efforts to highlight the need for a standard, CEP has spotlighted the worst of the worst extremists and their content.
For example, all of the following individuals enjoy a significant presence online, or have clear links to online radicalization.
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the unofficial spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who maintains an extensive online following despite his hate-filled, extremist sermons.
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a radical Islamist theologian living in Qatar, is the unofficial chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Through verified accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as his personal websites, Qaradawi releases his writings, speeches, and fatwas, which have called for the murder of Americans, gay people, and Jews.
- He has used his influence to promote extreme positions justifying violent terrorism and called for the murder of U.S. citizens in Iraq and for Muslims around the world to travel to Syria to take up arms.
- The Turner Diaries, considered the “bible” of the American white power movement, inspiring acts of violence that have resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people.
- For more than 40 years, William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries has served as a “Handbook for White Victory” for white nationalists around the world.
- The book has directly inspired at least three terror attacks, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, and has incited white supremacists into committing other acts of violence.
- Ahmad Musa Jibril is an Islamist preacher well-known for being an influential jihadist voice in Syria and for having radicalized Khuram Shazad Butt, one of three London Bridge attackers who killed eight people and wounded almost 50 others on June 3, 2017.
- Despite Jibril’s role in inciting horrific violence, Google-owned YouTube shockingly declared two years ago that Jibril’s videos did not violate the company’s Terms of Service.
- Today, Jibril’s lectures remain freely available on Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms and his messages continue to resonate with extremists and jihadists.
- Abdullah al-Faisal is an internationally banned Islamic propagandist who influenced one of the 7/7 bombers who killed 26 people and injured more than 340 others.
- Abdullah al-Faisal has recruited for ISIS and facilitated travel to ISIS-held territory.
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, in announcing his indictment, said Faisal’s lectures, websites, and videos have incited “untold numbers of people around the world to take up the cause of jihad.”
- New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill echoed similar sentiments, saying Faisal “has used his influence and direction to groom and inspire terrorists who have bombed trains, attempted to blow up airliners and attack Americans here and abroad.”
- Siege, a book written by American neo-Nazi James Mason that is a manifesto for neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division’s (AWD) members.
- Mason advocates for the creation of a violent, leaderless neo-Nazi guerilla movement and sustained lone actor terrorism to bring down the U.S. government.
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies.
(See a brief introduction on the Counter Extremism Project. Courtesy of the Counter Extremism Project and YouTube.)