Tech & Terrorism: Reuploads Of Extremist Content Online Is A Solvable Problem

(New York, N.Y.) — Recently, Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Senior Advisor and University of California, Berkeley professor Dr. Hany Farid spoke to the Guardian, in which he discussed the aftermath of the May 14, 2022 Buffalo, New York grocery store shooting. The gunman—who allegedly released a manifesto identifying himself as a white supremacist, antisemite, and believer in the Great Replacement Theory—livestreamed part of his attack on the Amazon-owned platform Twitch. Twitch took down the stream in less than two minutes but not before the footage was captured, allowing users to reshare it across multiple sites and platforms.

Speaking on the technology that tech companies need to combat the video’s redistribution, Dr. Farid states:

“The core technology to stop redistribution is called ‘hashing’ or ‘robust hashing’ or ‘perceptual hashing’. The basic idea is quite simple: you have a piece of content that is not allowed on your service either because it violated terms of service, it’s illegal or for whatever reason, you reach into that content, and extract a digital signature, or a hash as it’s called… And then every time a video is uploaded with the hash, the signature is compared against this database, which is being updated almost instantaneously. And then you stop the redistribution.”

Therefore, the problem that online platforms are seeing with reuploads and redistribution is not as complex as tech companies make it out to be. Rather, there is a lack of motivation and investment on the part of Big Tech. Dr. Farid points to the lack of a financial incentive to act:

“It’s not as hard a problem as the technology sector will have you believe … But the companies are not motivated to fix the problem. And we should stop pretending that these are companies [care] about anything other than making money … They are doing a calculation. What’s the cost of fixing it? What’s the cost of not fixing it? And it turns out that the cost of not fixing is less. And so they don’t fix it.”

Finally, Dr. Farid states that if the tech companies are not willing to invest the time and money into fixing the issue, the future of preventing reuploads of extremist content will have to fall to public policy such as the EU’s Digital Services Act.

“The EU announced the Digital Services Act that will put a duty of care [standard on tech companies]. That will start saying, if you do not start reining in the most horrific abuses on your platform, we are going to fine you billions and billions of dollars… The hope is that between [regulatory moves in] Australia, the EU, UK and Canada, maybe there could be some movement that would put pressure on the tech companies to adopt some broader policies that satisfy the duty here.”

To read Dr. Hany Farid’s full interview with the Guardian, please click here.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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