Tech giants must ‘do more’ to fight online extremism, says intelligence chief

© David W Cerny
Internet firms must “do more” to tackle extremism by monitoring potential terrorist content online rather than relying on authorities, an intelligence chief has warned.

Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee Charles Farr said several clues of online extremism and radicalization could have been missed because tech giants such as Facebook and Google often wait for orders from authorities.

In the past year, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has used social media and encrypted online platforms to recruit fighters and promote propaganda content. The group has shared execution videos and used Twitter to lure followers in the UK to join them in Syria.

In an effort to halt the jihadist group’s online activities, Scotland Yard and Home Office officials have worked together to take down thousands of items of terrorist propaganda.

However, officials have called on internet companies and owners of messaging apps to play a bigger role in Britain’s fight against online extremism, insisting more can be done.

‘We want to challenge ISIS’ 

We want to challenge the ISIL narrative,” Farr told the Independent on Monday

One of the ways we do this is by approaching social media platforms, like Facebook, to highlight where extremist and terrorist material they are hosting does not comply with their own terms and conditions.

When they agree, that material is then removed. This has been very effective.”

He further called on social media companies to “do more self-policing and not wait for us to contact them.”

‘Counter ISIS propaganda’ 

ISIL propaganda is more varied and diverse than the propaganda of Al-Qaeda,” the official said.

Where Al-Qaeda’s narrative focused on themes of oppression and violence, ISIL can purport to offer a non-violent message, appealing to people to travel, live in and help to build the so-called caliphate.

Propaganda of this kind can appeal to a much wider range of people than the social media of Al-Qaeda. Young, impressionable Muslims will be told that they have no choice but to join ISIL and defend a nascent state.

Of course some of its propaganda is explicitly violent. We need to counter ISIL propaganda of all kinds.”

‘Very dangerous’ 

In November, Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled the Investigatory Powers Bill, which requires telecommunications agencies to hand over data to security services and gives police, GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 unfettered access to records of Britons’ web use.

May claims the Bill will bring transparency, but tech giants have condemned the move, calling it “very dangerous.”

In a joint statement addressed to the government, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo said it is a “general rule” that users should be alerted when the government spies on their web browsing history, adding the Bill could have “far-reaching implications.”

Last year, May told the House of Commons the new measures are crucial for authorities trying to prevent murder, people trafficking, terrorism, online fraud and other crimes.

She also emphasized that the law will only amount to “updating existing powers, while strengthening oversight and transparency.”

May was quick to establish that the new bill is completely separate from the Communications Data Bill of 2012 which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.