For immediate release | Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Tech & Terrorism: Big Tech Spends Millions to Shape Possible Regulation of Extremist Content Online

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Media at CEP

Google, Facebook & Twitter Spend Total of Nearly $8 Million Lobbying on These Issues Despite Ongoing Terrorist Attacks

During the first quarter of 2019, Big Tech spent approximately $8 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies on potential regulations regarding cybersecurity; moderating terrorist, violent, extremist and “controversial” content online; and platform integrity, among other things. During the first quarter of 2019, Google spent nearly $3.53 million, Facebook spent $3.4 million and Twitter spent $420,000. In that same period, the Christchurch, New Zealand shooter was able to share his manifesto online and broadcast his attacks on Facebook Live.

“We are repeating our call for tech companies to cease all lobbying against potential government regulation that is clearly needed to protect citizens from online terrorists and extremist threats,” said CEP Executive Director David Ibsen. “Tech’s ongoing lobbying efforts prove, once again, that its public statements in favor of government oversight is simply a ploy to generate public goodwill and thwart punitive regulatory measures. Once again, tech’s promises to be responsible stewards of the Internet ring hollow as they continue doing business as usual. The media, lawmakers, and the public must demand transparency from tech and compare what they’re doing in practice to their public posturing.”

Between January and March 2019, Google SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker wrote a blog supporting “government-overseen systems of accountability,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed advocating “a more active role for governments and regulators” and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in an interview, “[g]enerally, I think regulation is a good thing.” Their lobbying disclosures, however, suggest the companies were pushing a different  agenda to lawmakers and regulators.

While tech was lobbying on regulation, terrorists were using their platforms unabated. Facebook and YouTube's much-publicized artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities were powerless during and after the New Zealand Christchurch shootings on March 15, 2019. The terrorist was able to livestream the shooting without Facebook taking any action until law enforcement informed them of the livestream, and identifiable copies of the video and audio were found on Facebook and YouTube more than a month following the attack.  

During the first quarter of 2019, prior to the New Zealand shootings, CEP spotlighted several notorious propagandists and pieces of content that the industry failed to keep off its platforms:

  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi (January 18, 2019): Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a Muslim Brotherhood leader who has supported attacks on American and Israeli civilians and troops, and the execution of gay people. Despite this, Qaradawi has a presence on Facebook and YouTube, on which his videos are widely available.
  • Siege (January 28, 2019): Siege is a neo-Nazi book beloved by various white supremacist groups in the United States.  The book advocates for terrorism to bring down the U.S. government and the creation of a violent neo-Nazi guerilla movement. Despite this, Siege is widely available on YouTube, WordPress, Scribd and the Internet Archive, among other websites.
  • Abdullah al-Faisal (February 4, 2019): Abdullah al-Faisal is classified as a global terrorist by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and a “violent extremist ideologue” by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. Among other things, he has advocated that his followers train and carry out terrorism.  Despite this, his essays, lectures and videos are widely available on YouTube, Twitter and the Internet Archive, among other online forums.
  • Ahmad Musa Jibril (February 5, 2019): Ahmad Musa Jibril is a U.S.-based Salafist preacher who U.S. prosecutors said, “encouraged his students to spread Islam by the sword, to wage a holy war [and] to hate and kill non-Muslims.” He is reported to have inspired one of the 2017 London Bridge terrorists. Despite this, his lectures and videos are widely available on Apple iTunes, YouTube and the Internet Archive.
  • The Turner Diaries (February 12, 2019): The Turner Diaries is a white supremacist “bible” that describes a revolution by white supremacists in the U.S. who perpetrate acts of terrorism against the U.S. government, culminating in a race war, and the global genocide of Jews and non-whites. It is well-known to have inspired several terrorists, including Timothy McVeigh and Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik. Despite this, it is still widely available on YouTube, Google Docs, Google Drive and the Internet Archive.