For immediate release | Thursday, June 27, 2019

House Homeland Security Committee Takes Aim at Tech Industry’s Failure to Halt Spread of Online Extremist Content

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GIFCT Criticism Reiterates Need for Industrywide Standards for Online Extremist Content Removal

(New York, N.Y.)On Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on social media companies' efforts to counter online terror content and misinformation. The hearing was called in the wake of March’s New Zealand mosque shootings—in which a terrorist killed 51 people and livestreamed it all on Facebook. A full 24 hours after the livestream, Facebook failed to remove 300,000 reuploads of the attack video. A week later, and then a month later, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) discovered that the video was still widely available. Tech’s failure to prevent reuploads of known terrorist content sheds light on the failings and ineffectiveness of the industry-led Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).

“We commend the House Committee on Homeland Security for holding tech companies accountable for their lack of effective action. Reuploads of the New Zealand attack video illustrate that the tech industry is unable to deliver on its promises to share information and technology via the GIFCT. The industry’s failure to identify the livestreamed video and halt reuploads on its platforms makes clear how little time and resources have been dedicated to the coalition,” said CEP Executive Director David Ibsen. “The spread of online extremist content must be confronted now, and the sensible starting point should be the creation of industry-wide baseline standards for the permanent removal of dangerous content online. If self-regulating bodies like the GIFCT are unable to establish such standards, the government must take measures to ensure public safety and security.”

During his opening remarks, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson called into doubt the efficacy of the GIFCT—the initiative founded two years ago by Facebook, Google, and Twitter to coordinate the industry response to the misuse of Internet platforms and services by extremist and terrorist actors. He strongly criticized the GIFCT’s inability to keep the New Zealand video from spreading across the world—a symptom of overwhelmed human moderators and failed artificial intelligence algorithms. He stated, “after a white supremacist terrorist was able to exploit social media platforms in this way, we all have reason to doubt the effectiveness of the GIFCT and the companies’ efforts more broadly.”

Representative Max Rose echoed similar criticisms of the GIFCT, questioning why an organization backed by the biggest companies in the world “cannot get your act together enough, to dedicate enough resources, to put full-time staff under a building” to deal with online extremism. He further stated, “I think it speaks to the ways in which we’re addressing this, with this technocratic, libertarian elitism. And all the while, people are being killed. All the while there are things happening that are highly preventable.” Lastly, referring to the National Whistleblower Center’s complaint in May that Facebook was falsely touting a 99% extremist content removal rate and auto-generating its own terror content, Rose asked, “Why is this still up? We have every right, right now to feel as if you are not taking this seriously. And by we, I do not mean Congress, I mean the American people.”

CEP has strongly advocated for the creation of an industrywide standard for the systematic online removal of extremist content. However, if the GIFCT’s ineffectiveness toward such an effort continues, it is clear that the government must step in. The tech industry is systematically failing at stopping reuploads of known extremist and terrorist material. As part of its efforts to highlight the need for a standard, CEP has spotlighted the worst of the worst extremists and their content. All of these individuals enjoy a significant presence online, or have clear links to online radicalization.

  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the unofficial spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who maintains an extensive online following despite his hate-filled, extremist sermons.
  • The Turner Diaries, considered the “bible” of the American white power movement, inspiring acts of violence that have resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people.
  • Ahmad Musa Jibril, a radical Islamist preacher who has inspired many extremists, including one of the 2017 ISIS London Bridge attackers.
  • Abdullah al-Faisal, an internationally banned Islamic propagandist who influenced one of the 7/7 bombers who killed 26 people and injured more than 340 others. 
  • Seige, a neo-Nazi book that advocates for terrorism to bring down the U.S. government and the creation of a violent neo-Nazi guerilla movement.