Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Social media companies continue virtual battle against extremism

Facebook reveals it removed 18 million examples of hateful content last year to combat radicalisation

General Bipin Rawat said sponsors of terror needed to be taken to task. AP
General Bipin Rawat said sponsors of terror needed to be taken to task. AP

A top Facebook official says extremists and white supremacists use similar strategies to recruit people online.

Dr Erin Marie Saltman, the company’s policy manager for counterterrorism in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the “empowerment structure” offered by extremists was the key ingredient to lure new supporters to their cause.

Video platforms such as YouTube and social media websites are frequently used by extremists to propagate their views, spread hate and even live-stream attacks.

In March last year, a white supremacist streamed his shooting rampage at two mosques in New Zealand, killing 51 people.

“White supremacy terrorism or extremist terrorism or other forms of extremism, the process looks very similar,” Dr Saltman told the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, a global conference organised by India’s foreign ministry and the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.

“White supremacy movements or extreme right-wing movements across Europe and the US … are offering a lot of comradeship, friendship on social networks, and job opportunities.”

Online radicalisation is one of the biggest challenges facing governments across the world.

But Dr Saltman said companies such as Facebook were finding ways to prevent the proliferation of extremist content on their platforms.

She said Facebook removed 18 million examples of “terrorism content” in the first nine months of 2019, using expertise and artificial intelligence, as well as other tools such as video-matching technology and language detection.

She said companies needed to work hard to defeat online radicalisation, particularly by ISIS, which is trying to establish a virtual caliphate after the loss of its physical territory.

Under the Global Internet Forum for Counter Terrorism, founded in 2017 by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft, information is shared to prevent extremist content appearing on their platforms.

“During the heyday of ISIS, it would post 200 unique pieces of propaganda each week in eight to 12 different languages, but now it has dropped to very little,” Dr Saltman said.

“The [virtual caliphate] is a smaller, less regulated platform. We have to see where trails go and work across the tech sectors.”

India is one of Facebook’s largest markets, with more than 240 million active users, with New Delhi also the world leader in internet bans.

The government blocked the internet in Kashmir in August after revoking the region’s semi-autonomous status.

India said the step was necessary to stop violence emanating from Pakistan, which it blames for supporting and arming militants in Kashmir since 1989.

The chief of India’s defence staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, said extremism in the region could be curbed by isolating Pakistan diplomatically.

He also called for agencies such as the Financial Action Task Force, a global watchdog for terrorist financing, to impose sanctions on the country.

“Anybody who is sponsoring terrorism has to be taken to task,” Gen Rawat said.

“We cannot have partners who are with us in the global war on terror and yet sponsoring proxies and terror.”

Pakistan was placed on the FATF grey list in October last year, with the group to scrutinise the country’s compliance and performance report in Beijing next week.

Gen Rawat said that if that progress had not been made then hard action should be taken, but did not give details.

“There has to be an international message,” he said.

His views were echoed by Gareth Bayley, the UK’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“It is absolutely clear that terrorist groups are operating from within Pakistan [and] pose serious challenges to the government of Pakistan and to the region’s stability,” he said.

Updated: January 16, 2020 11:55 PM

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