Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have announced a joint-initiative to help curb the spread of terrorist content online. According to a joint statement by the companies, they will commit to “the creation of a shared industry database of “hashes” – unique digital “fingerprints” – for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services.” Participating companies can then use these hashes to “identify such content on their services, review against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate.” It is not clear how the scheme will work in practice, but according to ArsTecnica, a likely model is Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, which is used to combat online images of child sex abuse.
Each participating company will “independently determine what image and video hashes will be shared" and “matching content will not be automatically removed.” Instead, 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.” Further, each company will “continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances.” While the initiative currently only involves the four companies mentioned, the statement says that they will “focus on how to involve additional companies in the future.”
It is clearly difficult to define exactly what constitutes “violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images”. However, the companies involved state that the hashes will include only “the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services – content most likely to violate all our respective companies’ content policies” and emphasise that they are “committed to protecting our users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves freely and safely on our platforms.”
The move follows an announcement in May that the same four companies had agreed a code of conduct with the European Commission on illegal online hate speech. According to Reuters, the EU’s justice commissioner Vera Jourova recently said that the four companies were not doing enough to comply with the code, and that unless this changed the Commission would consider passing new laws to address the problem.
For more information, see: Partnering to Help Curb Spread of Online Terrorist Content – Facebook press release and Internet giants will join forces to stop online sharing of terrorist material – Ars Tecnica