The Tide Turned Against Tech in 2018

2019 Should be the Year for Action to Curb Harms Stemming From Technology & Social Media

Throughout 2018, the tech industry experienced controversy after controversy, and companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were finally forced to apologize for their failures. But as the tech giants continued to hide behind their empty promises to improve privacy protections, remove extremist and terrorist material, and halt the spread of misinformation, everyone else suffered the consequences – from data breaches to incitement to terrorism and genocide.

“Americans have witnessed tech’s spectacular failure to prevent widespread misuses of its sites by terrorists, hostile state actors and others,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “As the new year begins, policymakers will need to grapple with the important fact that tech’s behavior has been unacceptable, and that sensible regulation is an inevitable consequence of the tech sector’s growth and impact on society. The negative externalities of tech – notably terrorist attacks that have occurred with links to social media and/or extremist online content – have made it clear that the threat to public safety and security is too great to continue to permit ‘self-regulation’ of the tech industry.”

As the 116th Congress commences, CEP will continue calling attention to the ways extremists manipulate social media, while holding technology companies accountable for their inaction and half-measures.  

  • A CEP report released last October followed 168 individuals who consumed official propaganda materials produced by the media arms of groups like ISIS. Of those monitored by CEP, 26 subsequently carried out attacks. At least 57 individuals who consumed official extremist propaganda attempted to become foreign fighters for an extremist group, and at least 16 succeeded.
  • Another CEP report found white supremacist movements in Europe have begun using their “highly polished” social media operations to broaden their appeal. These tactics are derived from far-right extremists found in the United States. 
  • CEP has tracked Facebook and Google/YouTube’s reactionary policy changes, documenting instances in which the companies made express policy improvements following public accusations, a scandal or pressure from lawmakers. Rather than take preventative measures, these companies only revised their policies after considerable damage had been done.
  • What is done in the near future to curb online extremism will be important than ever. Over the next five years, nearly one quarter of the United States’ terror convicts will complete their terms of imprisonment. As detailed in CEP’s Parallel Networks report, their recidivism rate will not be zero.