Social media giants must do more to police sites: UK lawmakers

August 25, 2016 9:13 AM EDT

A logo of Twitter is pictured next to the logo of Facebook in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic


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By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should hire more people to monitor hate speech and material inciting violence as well as putting staff in police operation centers to remove offending posts faster, British lawmakers said.

In a report released on Thursday by parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee, lawmakers said major internet firms were "consciously failing" to stop groups such as Islamic State promoting violence on social media and they needed to take more responsibility for the impact of material posted on their sites.

The report said large internet companies should work with the government, police and security services to create an extensive round-the-clock hub to monitor and immediately shut down such online activity.

"Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter, with their billion dollar incomes, are consciously failing to tackle this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror," said Keith Vaz, chairman of the parliamentary committee.

The report said it was "alarming" that teams of only a few hundred employees at the internet firms were monitoring billions of accounts. It called on them to work more closely with the London police Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, specifically by putting staff inside a 24-hour police operations center to identify and remove hate posts more quickly.

The report, which focused on radicalization in Muslim communities, said while there was no evidence of a single path or event that triggered changes in behavior, the internet nevertheless had a "huge impact in contributing to individuals turning to extremism, hate and murder".

The proposals made in the report are expected to be part of new legislation, the Countering Extremism and Safeguarding Bill.

NOT ENOUGH

For years, Facebook, Twitter and Google relied largely on user complaints to identify hate speech, rather than playing a more active role by hiring staff to monitor any abuse of their platforms. That changed late last year as social media firms began to step up their efforts. (http://reut.rs/1ljtisH)

With pressure growing for action, they agreed in May to tackle hate speech within 24 hours and reiterated on Thursday that they were already fully engaged in the battle to stop sites being exploited. Google and Facebook have moved to block violent propaganda videos automatically (http://reut.rs/28U55Vp).

In response to the parliamentary report, Simon Milner, Facebook UK's director of policy, said the company deals swiftly and robustly with any reports of abuse.

"In the rare instance that we identify accounts or material as terrorist, we'll also look for and remove relevant associated accounts," he said.

Twitter said last week it had suspended 235,000 accounts during the last six months believed to have links to militant groups such as Islamic State, double the number it suspended from the middle of last year to February.

"As noted by numerous third parties, our efforts continue to drive meaningful results, including a significant shift in this type of activity off of Twitter," it said.

YouTube said it would continue to work with the British authorities to see what other steps could be taken.

"We remove content that incites violence, terminate accounts run by terrorist organizations and respond to legal requests to remove content that breaks UK law," a spokesman said. "We'll continue to work with government and law enforcement authorities to explore what more can be done to tackle radicalization."

Politicians in the United States and other European countries have welcomed the greater efforts made this year by Twitter and other internet firms though some want more action.

On Tuesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised the more aggressive efforts by companies to take down hate speech but called for them to be compelled to help security services intercept encrypted messages from Islamist militants. (http://reut.rs/2bio0Ko)

(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; editing by David Clarke)



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