Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube are partnering up to tackle terrorism online in a new joint forum, vowing to make their services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists. Announced on Monday (26 June), the newly created "Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism" will address the "critical challenge" posed by terrorism online by focusing on technological solutions, research and knowledge-sharing with counter-terrorism experts, governments and civic groups.
"We take these issues very seriously, and each of our companies have developed policies and removal practices that enable us to take a hard line against terrorist or violent extremist content on our hosted consumer services," a statement on Facebook's blog reads.
"We believe that by working together, sharing the best technological and operational elements of our individual efforts, we can have a greater impact on the threat of terrorist content online."
The Silicon Valley giants noted that they are already partnering with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anti-Defamation League and Global Network Initiative "to identify how best to counter extremism and online hate, while respecting freedom of expression and privacy."
While each company already has their own respective counter-speech initiatives, the firms said the new forum would allow them to learn from each other's efforts, "discuss how to further empower and train civil society organizations and individuals who may be engaged in similar work and support ongoing efforts such as the Civil society empowerment project."
In December 2016, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter announced another similar collaborative initiative to create a shared database of unique digital fingerprints or "hashes" of videos and images that promote violent extremism or terrorism to help them identify and take down such content.
The companies will work closely with government anti-terror agencies and commission research to inform their counter-speech efforts and guide any future decisions taken surrounding the removal of extremist content from their platforms.
In partnership with the UN Secretary Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate and the ICT4Peace Initiative, the firms will also host a series of learning workshops within Silicon Valley and beyond.
The announcement comes after these companies have drawn fierce criticism, particularly in Europe, over extremist content and hate speech published on their sites and terrorists' continued use of these platforms for propaganda, recruitment and communication.
Following the recent deadly Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for new international regulations to be introduced to regulate the internet and "deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online." May also urged social media companies to remove harmful, terrorist content from their platforms.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd praised the tech firms' latest initiative to battle a threat that "transcends borders."
"That is why the Prime Minister is leading international efforts to tackle it," Rudd said in a statement. "And that is why I urged the companies to step up and take the lead when I brought them together and hosted a roundtable about tackling this threat in March.
"I hope the forum will lead to more co-ordinated action to develop technical solutions; improve detection; encourage joint working and the sharing of knowledge and best practice with smaller companies. There is more work to be done and I look forward to seeing how we can build on this very positive step forward."