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August 25, 2016

MPs accuse social media giants of ‘passing the buck’ on extremism

News: Home Affairs Select Committee slam Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for ‘consciously failing’ to stop online extremism.

By Ellie Burns

MPs have slammed social media companies in regards to their role in fighting terrorism, with the Home Affairs Select Committee accusing social media companies of ‘consciously failing’ to combat groups promoting extremism.

In the crosshairs of the Home Affairs Select Committee were three of the biggest social media companies – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube owner Google. Although the tech giants said that they were taking their role in fighting terrorism very seriously, the MPs accused the companies of ‘passing the buck’ when it came to tackling online extremism.

In the report, the MPs said: "Networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda and they have become the recruiting platforms for terrorism. They must accept that the hundreds of millions in revenues generated from billions of people using their products needs to be accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility and ownership for the impact that extremist material on their sites is having."

The report was clear in its condemnation of social media companies’ failure to curb extremism, yet some MPs and industry bodies painted the report as misleading. TechUK said that the MPs had painted ‘an inaccurate picture’ of how much work social media and tech companies are actually doing in the fight against terror.

Talking to the BBC, Simon Milner, director of policy for Facebook UK, said how the company had given extensive evidence to the Select Committee in regards to its counter-extremism strategy.

"Terrorists and the support of terrorist activity are not allowed on Facebook and we deal swiftly and robustly with reports of terrorism-related content," said Mr Milner.

"In the rare instances that we identify accounts or material as terrorist, we'll also look for and remove relevant associated accounts and content."

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However, the report was damning of the failure of social media companies to thoroughly detail their anti-terror efforts, with details regarding staff and resources vague. The MPs also accused the companies of using their vast wealth to tie up cases in courts of law, with Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, accusing the networks of "hiding behind" their supranational legal status. Mr Vaz also called for more clarity on how much material the companies are removing from their social networks and how quickly this is being carried out.

However, in contrast to the report’s findings, Charlotte Holloway, Policy Director at techUK, was quick to point out that counter-terrorist efforts would be far less effective without the current support of tech companies.

"Tech companies work proactively to deal with online extremism daily, in constructive and proven partnerships with a wide range of policy-makers, the police and security agencies, and wider civil society bodies."

"Indeed, the vast majority of counter-terrorist operations would not succeed without the assistance and support of tech companies."

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