Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadina, California have created a new debate regarding the role tech companies should play in the fight against radical jihadists.
Hillary Clinton hosted a press conference after the tragedy in Paris unfolded weeks ago, asserting the role that tech companies must play in crisis of our modern age:
“We need to put the great disruptors at work at disrupting ISIS… Resolve means depriving the jihadists of virtual territory just as we work to deprive them of actual territory… They are using websites, social media, chat rooms, and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks.”
The great disruptors aren’t so sure about their necessary role. Tech giants like Apple and Google have actively been fighting the government’s claims that the encryption services they provide for their clients is an unnecessary and dangerous hindrance of national surveillance efforts.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he stated that tech companies’ more rightful interference in terrorist affairs should involve keeping social media from becoming a tool to spread hatred or violence.
“We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media, sort of like spell checkers, but for hate and harassment,” he recommended. He believed that social networks should figure out which accounts are held by terrorists and monitor them to make sure that they cannot disseminate violent videos or terrorist propaganda.
According to the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, ISIS supporters used more than 46,000 Twitter accounts (potentially as many as 70,000) between September and December 2014.
Facebook spokesperson Jodi Seth stated that Facebook “shares the government’s goal” of keeping terrorist activity on its site to a minimum. “Facebook has zero tolerance for terrorists, terror propaganda or the praising of terror activity and we work aggressively to remove it as soon as we become aware of it,” she continued.
Seth explained that Facebook has a terrorist policy that involves passing on information to law enforcement as soon as it becomes aware of any planned attack or threat of imminent harm and sees fit to follow through with that policy on a daily basis.
“This is a developing cancer, and there’s a good chance that the answers today may need to be transformed as the nature of these exploits, propaganda techniques and heinous actions evolve.”
Not everyone believes that a share of the responsibility for managing the country’s safety should be put in tech companies’ hands.
Danny Obrien, international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated that “Social media companies shouldn’t take on the job of censoring speech on behalf of any government, and they certainly shouldn’t do so voluntarily.”
“Numerous circumstances would be problematic, to say the least,” he continued. “For example, would Facebook take down a post from a group that the Russian, Saudi, Syrian or Israeli government claimed were terrorists?”
“An issue of transparency remains on the table. Some social media groups have been more transparent than others about government requests to take down an account or remove content.”