Major technology companies – Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube are uniting forces to help limit the spread of terrorist content online.
Together, the companies said they will create a shared industry database that will be used to identify this content, including what they describe as the “most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos” that have been removed from their respective services.
The content will be hashed using unique digital fingerprints, which is how its identification and removal can be handled more easily and efficiently by the company’s computer systems and algorithms.
By collectively tracking that information, the companies said they could make sure a video posted on Twitter, for instance, did not appear later on Facebook.
The database is expected to be up and running by early next year and more companies could potentially join the partnership.
A joint statement by the companies said:
“There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services. When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies.”
The companies say they would share data “to help identify potential terrorist content on our respective hosted consumer platforms”.
The joint statement did not say what type of technology would be used for the venture although it did say it would be based on a shared industry database of “hashes” – or digital fingerprints – that identify violent content.
The statement added:
“Each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database. No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed.
Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found.”
Facebook also notes that personal information will not be shared, though it didn’t say that this information is not collected. The government can still go through legal means to find out from which accounts the content originated, and other info as before. The companies will continue to make their own determinations about how they handle those government requests and when those requests are disclosed.
The new database will be continually updated as the companies uncover new terrorist images or videos which can then be hashed and added to this shared resource.
Facebook says while the effort is beginning with the top social networks, the larger goal is to make this database available to other companies in the future.
The post states; “We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online.”
A recent study by the Global Network Initiative, a group that represents academics, investors, civil society organizations and companies, has cautioned against the human rights risks of censoring online terror content.