French President Emmanuel Macron (left) greets Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as he arrives for a high level meeting of the United Nations Security Council on U.N. peacekeeping operations Wednesday at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) greets Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as he arrives for a high level meeting of the United Nations Security Council on U.N. peacekeeping operations Wednesday at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Leaders to tech firms at UN: Remove terror posts in 2 hours

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube launched a joint counterterrorism initiative.

By Jennifer Peltz / Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The leaders of Britain, France and Italy are setting an ambitious goal for tech companies to tackle online posts that promote terrorism: Take them down within an hour or two.

Convening world and tech leaders Wednesday at the United Nations, British Prime Minister Theresa May said internet companies are making progress but need to go “further and faster” to keep violent extremist material from spreading online.

The average lifetime of Islamic State extremists’ online propaganda shrank from six days to 36 hours in the first six months of this year, May said.

“That is still 36 hours too long,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni joined May in leading what she called a first-of-its-kind session on the sidelines of annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of global leaders.

Internet services are facing increasing pressure to rid themselves of messages that, authorities say, provide inspiration and instructions for militant attacks. Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies pressed tech companies this spring to move more swiftly, after May raised the issue in the wake of a suicide bombing that killed 22 people outside a pop music concert in Manchester, England.

With potential legal consequences looming — May and Macron have suggested their countries could impose legal liability and fines if tech companies don’t do enough to deal with extremist material — online giants are eager to show they’re taking the issue seriously.

This summer, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube launched a joint counterterrorism initiative to collaborate on technology and work with experts. Menlo Park, California-based Facebook announced it had started using its artificial intelligence capabilities to find and remove extremist content, as it does to block child pornography. The company now has 150 engineers, content reviewers, language specialists, academics and former law enforcement figures focused on counterterrorism, global policy and counterterror head Monika Bickert told the U.N. gathering Wednesday.

San Francisco-based Twitter recently said it suspended 300,000 accounts for promoting terrorism just in the first six months of this year, the great majority flagged by its own internal efforts before posting anything. YouTube has more than doubled the number of violent extremist videos removed in recent months, Google Senior Vice President Kent Walker said Wednesday as he announced the Mountain View, California-based company would commit millions of dollars to research on combatting extremist content online.

“Removing all of this content within a few hours, or even stopping it from getting there in the first place, poses an enormous technological and scientific challenge that we continue to undertake,” he told the world leaders. “The haystacks here are unimaginably large, and the needles are both really small and constantly changing.”

Another challenge: taking on extremist postings without impinging on free speech. Walker acknowledged “we still don’t always get this right”: YouTube’s machine learning protocols recently removed activists’ videos from Syria’s civil war amid a search for graphic or pro-terrorist material, for example. The company said it would restore any videos improperly taken down, and at least some have already been returned.

There are other issues at play, as well. “We all know there are economic interests there, there are privacy problems,” Gentiloni said, but added: “We can’t reduce our ambition because of the difficulties.”

U.S. Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Claire M. Grady, meanwhile, said internet giants needed to ramp up work on extending the counterterrorism effort to smaller platforms; the big firms say they’re doing so.

Beyond wiping terrorist messages off the web, the leaders agreed they needed to help moderate voices counter those messages.

“We have to try to bring back these vulnerable people who are likely to be radicalized to the tenets of common sense,” Macron said.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Think Tank Cowork in Everett, Washington on July 19, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The first co-working space opens in downtown Everett

Think Tank Cowork’s owner hopes the facility will inspire other business owners to call Everett home.

New LGI Homes on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Sultan, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The real estate market took an abrupt turn this spring

Mortgage rates are up, but home inspections, seller concessions are back on the table for buyers.

The Lab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and inventors located at 404 N. Olympic Ave. (Photo credit: TheLab@Arlington)
New Arlington business incubator opens

TheLab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, inventors and business owners.

Patrons view the 787 exhibition Thursday morning at the Boeing Future of Flight Musuem at Paine Field on October 8, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Paine Field was county’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Not now

Snohomish County officials hope festivals and outdoor activities will fill Paine Field tourist gap.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood Chamber of Commerce ‘can’t keep the doors open’

The chamber is set to shut down at the end of the month due to financial challenges.

OnTrac Logistics has leased a building now under construction at Bay Wood Business Park on Everett's waterfront. The shipping company will open a facility there later this year that will employ 400 people. (Artist Rendering/Broderick Group.)
New Everett shipping facility to generate 400 jobs

OnTrac Logistics has leased a new building on the 12½-acre Baywood Business Park on Everett’s waterfront.

Maria Rios, a ferry worker of 13 years, helps Frank and Fran Butler, both of Washington, D.C., check out as the couple purchases food on Thursday, July 21, 2022, aboard the MV Suquamish ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton, Washington. Rios said food service returned to the Suquamish about three weeks prior. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drink up! Happy hour on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry is back

More galleys are reopening as pandemic restrictions scale back. Get out of your car for concessions just like at the ballpark.

The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett. (Janice Podsada / The Herald) 20220419
Flying Heritage Museum to reopen with new owner at Paine Field

Walmart heir Steuart Walton bought the historic aircraft and artifacts. The museum is set to reopen within the year.

Renee's Contemporary Clothing store at 2820 Colby Ave. on July 11, 2022. The iconic downtown Everett store is closing in August after 29 years in business. (Janice Podsada/The Herald)
Renee’s, another iconic downtown Everett store, is closing

After 29 years in business, the longstanding clothing shop will shutter. In-person sales slowed when stores reopened.

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Boeing is reporting a money-losing quarter as both its civilian-airplane division and the defense business are struggling. Boeing said Wednesday, April 27, 2022,  that it lost $1.24 billion in the first quarter and took large write-downs for several programs.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Boeing sees best month for aircraft deliveries since 2019

The company delivered 51 passenger and cargo planes in June, its best month for deliveries in recent years.

The Alderwood Towne Center, a 105,000 square-foot strip mall, is located at 3105-3225 Alderwood Mall Blvd. The mall, which has been sold, is home to 20 businesses, including anchor tenants Marshalls and Michaels. Photo Credit: CBRE Group.
Lynnwood strip mall near Link Light Rail Station sold

Alderwood Towne Center, home to 20 businesses, could eventually be redeveloped to take advantage of light rail.

James Berntson shows how his farm uses a trellis system to control tomato plants on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Radicle Roots Farm in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Backyard business: Snohomish farm thrives on less than one acre.

James Berntson grew Radicle Roots Farm using smart crop planning and organic practices.