Tech Against Terrorism

Highlights From The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism Summit in Sunnyvale, California

July 9, 2018

After School is a safe and open online space for American high school students to connect and share with their classmates. We use technical tools, human moderation, user moderation, and policies like our Community Guidelines to help keep our networks free of negative content — including cyberbullying, nudity, threats, and a growing concern of online platforms: terrorism.

To prevent terrorists from using social networks and new technologies to further their efforts, four companies — Apple, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft — founded the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) in 2017.

After School’s Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Collins recently participated in the GIFCT Summit in Sunnyvale, CA on June 8, 2018. The one-day event brought together tech companies of all sizes, government officials, and others to take stock of progress one year after the launch of the GIFCT, and set priorities for the coming year. Representatives from Google, Facebook, and over a dozen tech companies were involved with the event, along with senior government leaders from the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, France, and the European Union.

Here were Jeff Collins’ takeaways from the GIFCT Summit:

Increasing the Difficulty of Utilizing Tools for Terrorism

The efforts of the GIFCT and its member companies have had a major impact. It is now increasingly difficult for terrorists to spread their messages on major, well-known social networks. As a result, terrorists have been forced to turn to lesser-known networks.

Startups, Not Tech Giants, are The Focus

The shift to smaller networks has elevated the importance of the GIFCT’s efforts to help smaller companies. According to Tech Against Terrorism Project Director Adam Hadley, “smaller platforms are of most concern to us. Many company heads are not necessarily working full-time on their apps/platforms, which are spread all over the world, and terrorists can and do exploit them.”

The GIFCT has built and is improving mechanisms for large companies like Facebook and Google to share safety and counter-terror resources with small companies like Vimeo and After School.

Advancing Beyond Blocking and Removing Content

In the discussion of internet safety, the thought that the primary method of preventing harm should be blocking and removing content has reigned supreme. This method is temporary. Removing a post does nothing to stop the author from posting similar messages to this network or others.

United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielson, in her address at the event, emphasized the importance of counter-speech — messaging that seeks to respond to or pre-empt the narratives of terrorists and their organizations. Nielson and other GIFCT participants believe increased focus on counter-speech will be critical to effectively countering terrorism.

Still Much Work To Be Done

The founders of the project consider the GIFCT to be off to a successful start, but acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. Collins noted that government representatives were genuinely interested in listening to and helping the small companies in attendance. According to Collins, “This forum is a great first step in preventing terrorism recruiting efforts online. We need to continue to collaborate (private sector and government) and share resources to fight back against organizations attempting to exploit social media and technology.”  

Separating Free Speech from Terrorism

GIFCT Tech Against Terrorism Panel

Civil society groups emphasized that we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect free speech. Some representatives expressed concern that government-led efforts to prevent terrorism online has the potential to overreach and hinder free speech, including by blocking political satire and counter-speech that aimed at fighting against terrorist speech. “We all have a stake in striking the right balance with stopping terrorists while protecting human rights and free speech,” said Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel.  

Terrorism is Constantly Changing

The nature of how terrorist attacks are carried out is changing. French Ambassador for Digital Affairs David Martinon explained that terrorists are no longer instructed to make specific attacks through a specific order. Instead, they are inspired to carry out attacks. This makes detecting and preventing terrorist attacks difficult, and increases the importance of combating terrorist propaganda via counter speech and blocking efforts.  

What’s Still Missing

“One thing that was missing from the forum was recognition of the connection between interfaith bullying and terrorist recruitment,” said Collins. “Research shows that youth of different faiths (Sikh, Muslim, others) who are bullied are more susceptible to recruitment by terrorists (or more likely to be inspired by them). I believe there needs to be a much more overt recognition of and focus on the importance of early SEL (social and emotional learning) and inter-faith education, which will reduce the risk that young kids who are religious minorities are likely to become involved in terrorist activity,” concluded Collins.

After School has been supportive of this effort from the start, having attended the initial San Francisco meetup and spoken at the official launch of the Tech Against Terrorism Knowledge-Sharing Platform (KSP) at the UN in New York. After School plans to continue its involvement in the GIFCT, and is currently undergoing becoming an official member, and training to proactively prepare to prevent terrorist organizations from using our platform to recruit and spread terror.

Learn more about the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism:

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