On December 2, 2017, suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers killed 13 people and injured 53 others in a market in Borno State. The bombers struck as aid workers were distributing food to citizens.
(New York, N.Y.) — Last week, Google-owned YouTube along with Meta announced that they would expand their efforts to fight online extremism. YouTube stated that the company would “expand its policies on violent extremism to remove content that glorifies violent acts, even if the creators of the videos are not related to a terrorist organization,” while Meta stated that it would partner with a third-party organization to study online extremism. The announcements came as part of the Biden Administration’s summit on racism and extremism, where Biden announced his intention to ask Congress to hold social media companies accountable by revoking their Section 230 liability immunity—which in essence is legal protection from content created by their users.
“YouTube and Meta’s announcements represent another example of the tech industry’s reactive policymaking,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “Rather than announce new initiatives and issue platitudes, companies should focus on and invest the necessary resources in removing terrorist content. By focusing on removing the ‘worst of the worst’ content from internationally designated terrorist organizations and their supporters from these sites and platforms, companies will establish clear guidelines and enforce them in a transparent manner.”
For years, tech companies have simply reacted, often inadequately, to extremist and terrorist content found on their sites. Rather than operating proactively by taking preventative measures to protect their users, social media platforms implemented quick fixes that failed to achieve long-term results.
During the summer of 2017, for example, YouTube launched several initiatives relating to terrorist content on its platform, including its Redirect Method––a program intended to direct individuals searching for ISIS-related content on YouTube to counter-narrative videos. Between August 2 and August 3, 2018, CEP reviewed 649 YouTube videos for extremist and counter-narrative content, based on searches for six terms related to Islamic extremism. CEP found a decrease in the number of counter-narrative videos, indicating that Google did not improve the performance of its Redirect Method Program. CEP found nine videos (1.4 percent of the 649 videos checked) that may include counter-narrative messaging, meaning that a user searching for extremist material on YouTube was four times more likely to encounter extremist material than counter-narratives.
CEP has documented instances in which both Google and Meta’s Facebook have made express policy changes following public accusations, a scandal, or pressure from lawmakers. While one would hope that both companies are continuously working to improve security on their platforms, there is no excuse as to why so many policy changes have been reactive, and it raises the question as to what other scandals are in the making.
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