Leaders join Theresa May in call to curb ‘extremist ideologies’ online

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Reeling from five consecutive terror attacks in the country this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May used the forum of United Nations in New York yesterday to urge tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to rev up their efforts in cracking down on online radicalisation and defeating extremist ideologies.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni joined May in her fight to curb online content and curb extremist ideologies. Internet companies will be reportedly given a month to show they are taking the problem seriously, with ministers at a G7 meeting on 20 October due to decide whether enough progress has been made.

At the UN Assembly, May spoke about how an increasing number of people were being drawn to extremist ideologies “not only in places riven by conflict and instability, but many online in their homes thousands of miles away from those conflicts.” While she lauded the tech companies for making significant progress on this issue in the last some months, she also called upon the need to developing technology that would stop such content from appearing on the web or  removing it within two hours of appearing online.

“Industry needs to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online, and developing technological solutions which prevent it being uploaded in the first place,” May added. 

Macron told a gathering of security officials and representatives of technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft that they need to adopt a “name and shame policy” to denounce those who are against us. “You have to decide where you stand.”

Commenting on the two-hour threshold for content, Kent Walker, the general counsel at Google, told a media reporter that the “larger problem is you can’t necessarily catch everything on the entirety of the internet… The challenge is, while machine learning is a powerful tool, it’s still relatively early in its evolution.” 

Tech giants have been in the spotlight for a while now for hosting extremist material and trying to tackle this growing issue. Just yesterday, Google had announced a $5m innovation fund for countering hate and extremism, with the first $1.3m grant being awarded to a counter-extremist organisation in the UK. Twitter also announced how it had removed 299,649 accounts in the first half of this year for the promotion of terrorism, 75 per cent of which were pulled down before their first tweet.

Theresa May’s crackdown comes at a time when as many as 30 people were injured last Friday when a “bucket bomb” partially exploded in a Tube at the Parsons Green station in West London, of which the Islamic State had claimed responsibility. Previous attacks in the UK this year were at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Finsbury Park, and a blast at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester where dozens of people were killed and over 150 were left injured.

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