Google. Facebook. Twitter. Microsoft. These major players have long been competitors in the tech world, rivaling each other in everything from social media platforms, gaming, and even A.I. This competition has resulted in both drama and improvement in the industry. However, these companies were able to set aside their rivalries in order to pursue a more noble cause: thwarting terrorist propaganda.
In June of 2017, the four companies released a jointly-written blog post on their respective websites. The post highlighted the formation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) between Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and the Google-owned Youtube.
Just a month ago, Time ran an article titled “Social Media Networks Are the Handmaiden to Dangerous Propaganda.” The article came in the wake of the attack in Manhattan that resulted in the death of eight people. The terrorist, Sayfullo Saipov, was found to have 90 ISIS propaganda videos on his phone that he freely admitted had inspired him to commit the violent attack. In fact, New York Police Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller claimed that Saipov appeared “to have followed almost exactly to a ‘T’ the instructions that ISIS has put out in its social media channels before, with instructions to their followers on how to carry out such an attack.”
While social media has done wonders in allowing people to connect, it has also, at times, contributed to the spread of propaganda. ISIS, especially, has used social media platforms as a recruiting tool. This issue is what brought the GIFCT together. “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,” read their blog post. The goal of the Forum is to share knowledge and practices to improve their monitoring of terrorist content. This has manifested in data-sharing, working with governmental organizations and small businesses, and improving their respective counterspeech platforms. Since their first meeting in August, the Forum has participated in both a Heads of State meeting at the UN General Assembly and the G7 Interior Ministers meeting.
Today, the GIFCT produced another joint blog post to highlight their recent successes. Their shared hash database, where companies can create and share “digital fingerprints” for terrorist content, now has over 40,000 hashes. According to the post, the database “allows member companies to use those hashes to identify and remove matching content — videos and images — that violate [their] respective policies, or in some cases, block terrorist content before it is even posted.”
Looking ahead to 2018, Ask.fm, Cloudinary, Instagram, Justpaste.it, LinkedIn, Oath, and Snap have now joined the hash database in order to add and improve upon it. The Forum’s initial 2017 goal was to work with 50 smaller tech companies to help disrupt the spread of violent propaganda. Today, GIFCT announced that they were able work with 68 different companies through various workshops in San Francisco, New York, Jakarta, and another workshop coming up in Brussels. The Forum promised continued updates on this very important endeavor. “We recognize that our work is far from done,” concluded the post. “But we are confident that we are heading in the right direction.”