At today's second high-level meeting of the EU Internet Forum convened in Brussels by Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos and Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King, key internet companies presented an industry initiative, which constitutes a significant step forward in curbing the spread of terrorist content online. As part of the industry-led hash-sharing initiative*, participating companies can use hashes to detect terrorist images or videos, review the material against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate.
The internet companies also committed to support the new Civil Society Empowerment Programme, launched today by the European Commission. The programme, which has a financial endowment of €10 million from the Commission, will support civil society in increasing the volume and the effectiveness of effective, alternative narratives online.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said "This second high level meeting of the EU Internet Forum is taking another important step forward in protecting our citizens from terrorist content on the internet. The internet, a medium of communication, learning and interaction, is abused on a daily basis by those that want to radicalise others and publicise their atrocities. We can stop that. Since last year, we have produced concrete results in taking terrorist content of the internet. Today, we take our work one step further, by launching a new hash-sharing project with the internet industry, to make sure terrorist content taken offline stays offline. The actions of the internet industry are vital for our joint fight against terrorism, which increasingly starts online and is not limited by national borders. I am grateful for the contribution of internet companies, their dedication and their trust in our common work against terrorism."
Sir Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union, said "In the last 12 months, we have seen repeated use of the internet by terrorist groups, whether it's been for the purpose of grooming, recruitment, preparing attacks, calling for attacks or glorifying in terrorist atrocities.That is why it's so important that we focus on reducing accessibility to terrorist material, ensuring it does not go back up online somewhere else, as well as empowering civil society partners to offer persuasive but positive alternative narratives to those tempted by violent extremism. It's a complex issue as the approaches used by terrorists are evolving as well as the technologies supporting their propaganda. Public authorities and agencies need to work together hand in hand with the private sector. Today's meeting – and in particular the launch of the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme and the announcement of the new hash-sharing project – show that progress is being made. But there is more to do: we'll need to redouble our efforts in months and years to come."
Monika Bickert, Head of Global Product Policy for Facebook said: "At Facebook, we work hard to keep our community safe. That means we have zero tolerance for terrorists, terror propaganda, or the praising of terror activity -- and we work aggressively to remove it from our platform as soon as we become aware of it. We welcome this collaboration with others in the tech industry, as it will help all of us identify content that may violate our respective policies and fight the spread of terrorist content online.”
Juniper Downs, Head of Public Policy, YouTube, said: "We work hard to take swift action against terrorist content through enforcement of YouTube's policies, and by investing in new solutions like the industry hash database. We support and encourage collaboration between tech platforms in order to strengthen our collective response to the spread of terrorist content online."
Sinead McSweeney, VP of Public Policy, Twitter EMEA, said: “Since the middle of 2015, we have suspended more than 360,000 accounts for violating Twitter's policy on violent threats and the promotion of terrorism. A large proportion of these accounts has been removed by technical means, including our proprietary spam-fighting tools. Going forward, we will manually share image hashes on a periodic basis with our industry colleagues to impede the spread of terrorist content elsewhere on the internet. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for dealing with this type of material; every platform is different. As such, we have adopted an innovative model, developing a hybrid technical and reporting toolkit that works for Twitter first. The result has been a movement of terrorist content off the platform. We look forward to building on this success in collaboration with our peers in 2017."
John Frank, Microsoft Vice President for EU Government Affairs said: "Terrorism is one of the truly urgent issues of our time. We are committed to helping address the use of technology to promote it or to recruit to its causes."
Since the launch of the EU Internet Forum last December, the abuse of the internet by international terrorist groups has decreased. However, while terrorist content creation might be on the decline, terrorist material continues to circulate on the internet.
Tackling this challenge, while protecting the Union's fundamental values of freedom of speech, remains at the forefront of our EU counter terrorism efforts. The European Commission, Home Affairs Ministers and the internet industry presented a united front to tackle this complex challenge and to protect EU citizens.
The EU Internet Forum has two key objectives: to reduce accessibility to terrorist content online; and to empower civil society partners to increase the volume of effective alternative narratives online. These two objectives formed the basis of discussions, reflecting on all that has been achieved in the last 12 months, whilst identifying areas for further co-operation.
Research commissioned by the European Commission and produced by VOX-POL will be presented on how terrorists' use of the internet has evolved since the launch of the EU Internet Forum last year. This research will be made available online here.
In reducing accessibility to terrorist content online, the Forum heard how the EU Internet Referral Unit set up at Europol 18 months ago, has played a key role in referring terrorist material online to the companies, successfully referring nearly 20,000 pieces of terrorist content to over 50 platforms. Furthermore, Europol has combined its security and cyber expertise in order to provide vital emergency operational support and analysis to Member States in the aftermath of recent attacks.
Internet companies have now developed a mechanism to improve co-operation between each other to combat the spread of terrorist images and videos on the internet. The Commission sees this as a significant step forward in the form of a collaborative industry response in protecting their users from terrorist content.
In recognition of the fact that civil society partners can play a vital role in challenging online violent extremism, the Commission will launch the Civil Society Empowerment Programme which will provide €10 million worth of support to help credible voices develop campaigns online. The internet companies back the Commission's efforts in this important area.
Whilst it was acknowledged that violent extremist groups were finding it harder to exploit the internet to further their terrorist objectives, the industry and Member States committed to ramp up all efforts in combating this threat in 2017.
The EU Internet Forum on terrorism came just one day after a high-level discussion on racism and xenophobia, where companies reported on the progress made under the Code of Conduct on Hate Speech underscoring a concerted approach on tackling hate speech online.
* developed by the internet industry to create a shared database to help identify potential terrorist content on social media and prevent its reappearance on other platforms.
For More Information:
Press release: EU Internet Forum: Bringing together governments, Europol and technology companies to counter terrorist content and hate speech online