Task force tackling online terror content could unite tech firms and police, report says

Authors' recommendations include take-down protocol

Tech companies are being urged to work more closely with the police to fight online extremism. Reuters
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Authors of an international report examining online terrorist content say creating a dedicated task force could help police and tech firms work more effectively.

The report by the Global Network on Extremism and Technology, Together: Co-operation between Counter-terrorism Law Enforcement and Technology Companies, has made four recommendations, urging technology companies and police forces to work together in the fight to tackle online terrorist content.

The report's authors at the University of Swansea interviewed police, who claimed the process to have content taken down took too long, and tech employees, who criticised some of the police requests as failing to meet the criteria to be taken down.

The report calls for an experienced exchange service programme, the implementation of a takedown‑shutdown counter-terrorism policing protocol, the development of a joint upstreaming service founded on a proactive preventive ethos, and the development of joint strategic research requirements.

The authors interviewed 21 people from seven countries — 10 in law enforcement from five countries, five from tech firms, three from NGOs and three experts.

Report author Stuart Macdonald said law enforcement officials had expressed frustration that content could take weeks to be removed after requests were sent in, while some felt it was like a “negotiation” with companies to justify the removal.

The report authors said tech companies often thought about the reputational damage the content could do to them.

“Some companies lacked the capacity to deal with requests promptly,” Mr Macdonald said.

“From tech companies the main concern was the content of some referrals which had only a tenuous connection or was not connected to terrorism at all.”

He added that it was crucial that everybody worked together to fight extremism.

“Collaboration across different sectors is not easy. In our report we focus on law enforcement and tech companies,” he said.

“Understanding each other’s situation is crucial.”

His colleague Andrew Staniforth said “nobody in isolation” could tackle the terrorism threat and said co-operation between tech companies and police remained in its “infancy”.

“As the sustained threat from terrorism in all its forms persists, a more progressive, co-operative and collaborative partnership between law enforcement agencies and tech companies must be encouraged,” he said.

“Adopting the set of recommendations will support transforming this partnership.”

In the year to September 2022, Facebook removed 54 million items featuring terrorist content.

In the same time period, YouTube removed 273,016 videos that promoted violence and violent extremism, while in 2021, Twitter suspended a total of 112,360 accounts for the same reason.

The Global Network on Extremism and Technology is convened and led by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, an academic research centre within the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 10:12 PM