Tech giants to use digital fingerprinting to block terrorist content

6 Dec 2016

Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are creating a shared database to identify and remove extremist and terrorist content. Image: Wave Break Media/Shutterstock

Extremely violent content shared on social media by terrorists is to be digitally fingerprinted by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube, in a bid to stop violent content going viral.

The four tech giants intend to digitally fingerprint content like videos and photos, so that future material will be screened and blocked before it is shared.

They then intend to share this capability with other online providers.

‘There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services’

Target content includes violent executions, terrorist imagery or memes, and terrorist recruitment videos.

When one company identifies such content, the other companies will be able to identify it too via a shared industry database of “hashes” and remove or block it from their networks.

Swift action promised

“There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services,” the companies said in a joint statement.

“When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies.”

The companies said that they will begin sharing hashes of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos that have been removed from their services and create digital fingerprints to block content from the same sources.

“As we continue to collaborate and share best practices, each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database,” the companies said.

“No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed. Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found.

“And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances. As part of this collaboration, we will all focus on how to involve additional companies in the future.”

They said that user privacy will be protected at all times.

Any user who believes that content they posted had been incorrectly flagged will be able to appeal, they said.

Are tech giants doing enough?

The move comes amid criticism by EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová, who said that tech giants aren’t doing enough to curb the spread of violent, extremist content, and threatened new laws to tackle companies that don’t act fast enough.

Crucially, it comes after a bleak and surreal period where terrorist groups were able to post recruitment content on social media, as well as distressing and violent executions with impunity.

The joining of forces by the tech companies could signal further progress or help establish a template for tackling other vile aspects of the internet, such as bullying and harassment and in particular, child abuse material.

Fundamentally, these companies built these platforms, and with that comes great responsibility.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years