On September 15, 2019, a truck bomb exploded outside of the Al-Rai Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, killing 12 civilians and injuring many more. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
(New York, N.Y.) — Google’s Jigsaw announced that it is developing a free software tool to help smaller websites improve their content moderation capabilities. The purported new tool comes as tech companies will be forced to remove terrorist content from their sites or face fines under the EU’s Digital Services Act. A similar rule will apply in the U.K. under the Online Safety Bill, which is expected to become law this year.
Unfortunately, Google’s announcement remains vague, and the tool is simply described as helping human moderators make decisions on flagged content. The software also is backed by Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), which was founded in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube with a promise to work with smaller companies to remove known terrorist content through a shared hashing database. The seemingly duplicative efforts by the GIFCT and by Google/Jigsaw raises questions and concerns about the legitimacy and effectiveness of their pledge to keep terrorists of their sites.
The series of content moderation measures also shows how government regulation can work to compel companies to act and innovate to ensure the safety of their platforms and users. Big tech firms have continuously argued against new laws and measures aimed at ensuring the removal of terrorist material—insisting that their existing technology and other industry efforts were sufficient. Google’s latest announcement, however, seems to reveal that such previously announced technologies and efforts were insufficient to adequately keep terrorist content off their sites and likely exposed the companies to liability under the new EU and U.K. laws. Once again, the tech industry only acts when compelled by legal obligation or the prospect of reputational harm.
Indeed, despite assurances otherwise, the GIFCT and its members have a history of failing to curb extremist and terrorist content on its own platforms. In 2019, GIFCT failures were exemplified during the Christchurch, New Zealand attack that was livestreamed on Facebook. Despite the video initially being taken down, the video was uploaded millions of times on a variety of platforms. Google Drive links of the livestream video were also shared on social media platforms and YouTube videos praising Brenton Tarrant have been located by Counter Extremism Project (CEP) researchers. The GIFCT’s disappointing track record and inability to coordinate content moderation practices across sites puts the public’s safety at risk.
“Unifying content moderation efforts across platforms of all sizes is important," says said UC Berkeley professor and CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid. “Smaller platforms, however, have smaller problems, and Google and the other large platforms that make up the GIFCT should focus on developing and deploying more advanced content moderation to more effectively remove terrorist and extremists from their platforms. Given the continued failure to rein in these online abuses, government regulation is required to compel the titans of tech to act responsibly.”
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