EU tells tech firms extremist content must be dealt with faster

7 Dec 2017

Office of the European Commission, Brussels. Image: skyfish/Shutterstock

In a world where politics is increasingly influenced by the internet, major tech firms are developing strategies to combat extremism.

Yesterday (6 December), the EU Internet Forum – which brings together tech firms, the European Commission, EU member states and law enforcement – met to discuss the progress made by companies in terms of the removal and vetting of extremist content.

If there are any takeaways this year in terms of the internet, it is that online platforms and tech firms’ influence on public opinion is now an undeniable truth.

As well as spreading benign political campaigning messages and other content on social issues, there are dangerous ideologies being touted on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Firms are now examining their content policies in the wake of serious geopolitical upheaval.

EU reaction: A lot done, a lot more to do

EU security commissioner Julian King said that while there have been some positive developments, there is still some additional effort to be made: “We are not there yet. We are two years down the road of this journey; to reach our final destination, we now need to speed up our work.”

If left unsatisfied by the changes made by tech firms, the EU is to come forward with legislation in 2018. In Germany, an online hate speech law is due to come into force on 1 January 2018 but the EU apparently wants to avoid a multitude of separate national laws, preferring a self-regulatory model.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism includes companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, and the group recently shared some of the progress it has made.

Progress made in classifying content

A shared industry hash database of more than 40,000 digital fingerprints of terrorist content has been created. Using the database, firms can identify and remove content that matches the bank of content.

A post from the industry group said: “We recognise that our work is far from done, but we are confident that we are heading in the right direction. We will continue to provide updates as we forge new partnerships and develop new technology in the face of this global challenge.”

The group aims to remove terrorist content within one to two hours of upload. According to Reuters, the EU Commission wants companies to act faster and implement automatic detection methods, and respond to referrals from Europol and EU member states at a more rapid pace.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU home affairs commissioner, said: “There is a lot of room for improvement, for this cooperation to produce even better results, starting with the reporting from the companies, which must become more regular and more transparent.”

Office of the European Commission, Brussels. Image: skyfish/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects