Silicon Valley is Dragging Its Feet Combatting Online Terrorism

11/09/2017 10:47 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2017

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If you desire to know what social media is NOT doing to combat online terror incitement and reduce the threat of “digital radicalization a la carte.” the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) (www.counterextremism.com) is convening this coming Monday at Washington’s Newseum a “hold ‘em accountable” event which will be keynoted by Sen. Ron Johnson and include an expert panel well-versed on the too-many-to-count empty promises from Silicon Valley when it comes to cleansing social media of Al Qaeda and ISIS incitement and deadly “how to make bombs and ram pedestrian” videos.

The event will feature Fran Townsend, CBS Contributor & President Bush’s former White House Adviser for Counter Terrorism, Dr. Peter Bergen, CNN Contributor & one of our nation’s most renowned experts on Al Qaeda and ISIS, and Dr. Hany Farid, Chairman of Dartmouth College’s Computer Science Department and developer of software which interdicts extremist content in widespread use in Europe and Africa.

It’s not just Russian ads that are posing a threat to our homeland and our security. Social media companies are a long way from throwing the kitchen sink at on line radicalization – and the latest case in point is New York bike path terrorist Saifullu Saipov – the latest in a long line of U.S.-based lone wolf terrorists radicalized on line – who spent months viewing Google and YouTube videos posted by ISIS and Al Qaeda to incite and inspire his demonic drive in Manhattan.

The Newseum event will constitute a national reality check on Silicon Valley’s pledge to up its game to counter on line extremism.

If you believe ISIS is running for the hills, forget about it! Before the last bullet was fired by ISIS in Raqqa, Syria before it was liberated, ISIS is regrouping its social media operation away from YouTube to its new, preferred platform of choice: Google Plus. Why? Google Plus is a perfect platform for ISIS since it provides terrorists a “digital atomic explosion” ignition platform enabling ISIS and Al Qaeda to disseminate messaging from Google Plus across a wide spectrum of social media platforms before it is intercepted. Jihadists are still sharing bomb-making and “how to” videos on Google Drive, which has become a veritable Fort Knox for terrorist propaganda notwithstanding Google’s assurances that it is taking a hard line against digital terrorism. Instructional digital daggers of death remain on social media platforms for days, if not weeks on end, until some third party good Samaritan flags them. Fortunately, there is some progress and more acknowledgement from social media of the urgency and challenge, but in this 21st century era of gigabyte speed, they are still tackling the issue at a snail’s pace.

Disappointed? Here’s more troublesome news from Google’s offshoot, YouTube. Although YouTube’s management pledged earlier this year to American blue chip corporate advertisers they would never have to worry about their ads appearing on an ISIS website, a few days ago social media sleuth Eric Feinberg found an ad for the travel site TRIVAGO on an ISIS incitement video (yes, YouTube thankfully took it down, but, hey, that isn’t supposed to happen anymore after YouTube lost hundreds of millions of ad dollars from a boycott by U.S. advertisers who found their ads on neo-Nazi, ISIS and other extremist content).

The sad truth is that social media companies have enabled ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and other extremist organizations promoting violence to develop an oversized social media presence to propagate violent beliefs, recruit adherents, and promote attacks.

Silicon Valley has run out of legitimate excuses for its collective foot-dragging against violent extremism. Social media companies protest they simply lack the technological software capacity to quickly identify and remove violent extremist content. That is not accurate. There are software remedies available now which would greatly accelerate the identification and removal of extremist content and Monday’s panel will discuss their feasibility and availability.

But social media companies refuse to avail themselves of these fixes for fear that they risk financial exposure by forfeiting the content immunity granted under the 1996 Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). Without the CDA’s protection they would become liable for enabling radical incitement to infiltrate onto their platforms. For tech titans, it comes down to money, not fighting at warp speed against on-line radicalization.

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It’s not as if the software isn’t available to them to prevent this.

One software fix (designated “eGLYPH”) has been available since 2015. Developed by CEP panelist Hany Farid and readily available to private and public entities in the U.S. and abroad, eGLYPH is already being used by the security services on Germany and the UK, to name a few. eGLYPH has been offered to social media companies by CEP free of charge, but potential Silicon Valley customers refuse to even use it in a pilot project, and refuse to even meet with Dr. Farid. Huh?? No executive from any of the companies approached offers any rational reason for rejecting the eGLYPH technology offer or other technologies now available. I suppose that if they did, so they would then have to acknowledge their responsibility to police the extremist content uploaded onto their sites.

This is a watershed moment for Silicon Valley; the hubris and race for greenbacks can no longer camouflage the danger these companies pose to our liberties and security. Social media companies have for too long enjoyed the unlimited protection of the CDA.

Congress is, however, beginning to chip away at the CDA’s blanket protections because of the proliferation of content abuses enabled under the CDA. The Senate will soon take up consideration of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – a response to the Backpage.com sex trafficking scandal. SESTA would amend the CDA to hold Silicon Valley social media companies liable for sex trafficking content uploaded to their sites. The SESTA bill acknowledges that the CDA has been overbroad and has unduly shielded nefarious social media content sex trafficking.

A free and fair internet is critical to our democracy, but those who preach and train terror and extremism are enemies of democracy and threaten our citizenry. Congress had no reason to believe in 1996 that social media would be awash in tactical and inspirational incitement promoting terrorism. Thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more injured because extremist content has been so instrumental in facilitating terrorism.

Given the dangers, why isn’t Congress calling Silicon Valley’s bluff and finally put an end to Silicon Valley’s blanket CDA immunity in order to compel these companies to stop dragging their feet and do what is right! Isn’t the terrorism caused by the likes of the Manhattan terrorist as dangerous and pernicious as sex trafficking, if not more so? Don’t the innocent victims of terrorism deserve justice? Don’t Americans deserve access to social media cleansed of inspirational and inciting violent extremism? Surely, Silicon Valley’s wiz kids can do better than what their lawyers claim they can do to avoid more terrorism calamities.

Digital companies, notably Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, have spent millions of dollars deploying lobbyists to deflect attention away from its shortcomings and indifference to the threats. They did everything possible to kill SESTA and are doing everything possible to prevent Congress from outlawing unabashed, unambiguous on-line extremism.

Wouldn’t that money be better spent inventing new tech fixes to thwart incitement and tactical ISIS videos? Terrorists are not waiting for Silicon Valley to act against them…they are plotting every day at our peril.

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