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Social media companies launch upload filter to combat “terrorism and extremism”

By Matthias Monroy

A database set up jointly by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube has become operational. The prototype aims to identify “terrorist and radicalising” content automatically and to remove it from these platforms.

The prototype of a mechanism to prevent the publication of violent terrorist content on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter commenced operations last week. This was announced by European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who met representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Friday last week in order to discuss the progress made so far with regard to the “removal of terrorist content online”.

Database to remove “terrorist content”

This prototype is a database operated jointly by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft that gathers “digital fingerprints” (hashes) of content marked as “terrorist” or “extremist”. Once designated as such, photos or videos can no longer be uploaded to these platforms. The upload filters are intended to ensure that undesirable content is identified and removed more swiftly.

These companies are part of what is known as the EU Internet Forum, which met for the second time last December. With this counterterrorism initiative, the European Commission intends to encourage Internet companies to, among other things, monitor content on their platforms more intensively.

Direct access to data in the cloud

Alongside the removal of content online, the EU Internet Forum discusses further measures in the area of cyber security and the production of electronic evidence. The ministers of the interior of the EU member states are calling for greater numbers of direct enquiries to be submitted to companies in the future, thereby circumventing the often laborious route that is international judicial assistance.
This primarily applies to the operators of cloud servers in the US. The Commission is currently assessing whether US companies could fall under the remit of the European Investigation Order. This directive could be extended in order to include operators that, while headquartered in a third county, offer their services in the European Union.

EU anti-terror coordinators working for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Since the establishment of the EU Internet Forum in December 2015, access by investigative authorities to encrypted telecommunication has been on the agenda. According to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the European Commission had initially kept a low profile in this area. According to a Commission press release, the issue of encryption was discussed at the meeting last week, however.

The EU’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, who has called for assistance with decryption by companies in a number of papers over the last two years, was also in attendance. De Kerchove is not a member of the Commission, but of the Council of the European Union. His post was established in order to present new priority areas for action with respect to fighting terrorism and extremism on a biannual basis.

“Alternative narratives” accorded a higher priority

Likewise under the umbrella of the EU Internet Forum, the Commission is currently launching an EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme (ESCN). This is overseen by the European Commission’s Radical Awareness Network, which became fully operational as a “Centre of Excellence” one year ago.

In previous press releases, the Commission announced that the programme would receive financial support to the tune of 10 million euros. It is intended to help “civil society, grassroots groups and credible voices” to fill the Internet with “alternative narratives”. A particular focus is on “capacity and / or resources” for disseminating messages to achieve this end. The aim here is for participants to develop campaigns in cooperation with Internet companies.

Little information is available regarding the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme. On the Commission’s website, it appears that an opening event was to take place last week, attended by Internet companies, “marketing experts” and “civil society” (see the programme here). Following this event, campaigns were launched, but no details have been disclosed about this either to date. Last year, it was announced that Twitter could accord “counter-narratives” greater visibility without charging the usual fee for this service.

Tranlation: German Bundestag