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Online terrorism debate heads to Silicon Valley

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd will ask tech giants to do more to remove online terrorist content. But how much more can they realistically do?

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British Home Secretary Amber Rudd will pile pressure on US tech companies to remove more online terrorist content during a meeting in Silicon Valley on Tuesday.

Rudd is travelling to the US to take part in the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was set up by tech giants including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google. She will call on the companies to take collective action to tackle online extremism.

The UK has weathered multiple terrorist attacks this year, and Rudd has been vocal about tech companies taking firmer action to chase terrorists off social networks and other online platforms. WhatsApp in particular came under fire after it came to light that Khalid Masood, the perpetrator of the Westminster attack who killed four people outside parliament, had used the service in the moments before his death.


Home Secretary Amber Rudd will take tech companies to task.

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP/Getty Images

"Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages," Rudd will tell tech companies attending the Forum, according to the Home Office.

She will highlight work carried out by the UK Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, which is responsible for pulling 280,000 pieces of terrorist content offline since 2010 as well as closing millions of accounts. But Rudd will also say more must be done and the threat cannot be downplayed.

"The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry," she is set to say. "We have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love."

What more can social media companies really do?

The Forum will focus on providing technical solutions for removing terrorist content and will see larger and more experienced companies provide for smaller, younger companies dealing with extremist content.

Encouraging smaller companies to cooperate with counterterrorism efforts is crucial given the changing landscape of social media. In May, Europol chief Rob Wainwright described the difficulties with getting these companies to work with law enforcement.

"One in particular causing major problems for us is Telegram," he told The Times. It provides "some cooperation but nowhere near what we are getting from Facebook, Twitter and some of the others."

Telegram didn't respond to a request for comment or confirm whether it will be attending the Forum.

Most jihadists are now using Telegram and other end-to-end encrypted messaging apps, said Professor Peter R. Neumann from King's College London and Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. But, he pointed out in series of tweets, that's not the only problem with the UK government's attitude towards social media.

"Big social media platforms have cracked down on jihadist accounts," he said. "Moreover, few people [are] radicalised exclusively online. Blaming social media platforms is politically convenient but intellectually lazy."

This sentiment is echoed by J.M Berger, a fellow at the International Centre of Counter-Terrorism. "What most policymakers and commentators fail to recognise is that efforts to control IS's activities online have peaked. So believe me when I tell you: there is not much more that can be done," he wrote in a blog post. "Placing further demands on Facebook, Twitter and Google will not solve the problem."

Facebook, Twitter and Google didn't immediately respond to requests for comment but are set to make a joint statement later today.

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