Facebook, Google and Twitter are waging a silent WAR against Islamic State
REUTERS • GETTY
Technology firms including Facebook, Twitter and Google are fighting back against ISIS
US technology firms including Facebook, Google and Twitter are increasing their efforts to stomp out online propaganda and recruiting by Islamic militants.
However the Silicon Valley firms are believed to be moving quietly in order to avoid the perception that they are helping the authorities police the Web.
The news comes after Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS or Daesh, released a smartphone app which allows jihadists to watch beheading videos and speeches from terrorist leaders as the group increases its online and social media grip even further.
Facebook, the most popular social network in the world, last week disabled a profile that the company believed belonged to San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband is accused of killing 14 people in a mass shooting that the FBI is investigating as an "act of terrorism".
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The news came after French prime minister and European Commission officials met separately with Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies to demand faster action on what the commission called "online terrorism incitement and hate speech."
ISIS or Daesh recently hijacked a public wifi connection to warn of further Paris-style terrorist attacks.
The US internet companies described their policies as straightforward – they ban certain types of content in accordance with their own terms of service and require court orders to remove or block anything beyond that.
Anybody is able to report or flag content for review and possible removal. But the truth is believed to be far more nuanced and complicated.
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According to a number of former employees, Facebook, Google and Twitter all worry that if they are public about their true level of co-operation with Western law enforcement agencies, they will face endless demands for similar action from countries around the world.
They also fret about being perceived by consumers as being tools of the government.
Worse, if the companies spell out exactly how their screening works, they run the risk that technologically savvy militants will learn more about how to beat their systems.
"If they knew what magic sauce went into pushing content into the newsfeed, spammers or whomever would take advantage of that," said a security expert who had worked at both Facebook and Twitter, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters news agency.
Belgian police officers conducted a number of high profile raids following the Paris terror attacks
Meanwhile, it is thought these major US technology firms are waging an online war against ISIS
One of the most significant yet least understood aspects of the propaganda issue is the range of ways in which social media companies deal with government officials.
Facebook, Google and Twitter say they do not treat government complaints differently from citizen complaints, unless the government obtains a court order.
The trio are among a growing number that publish regular transparency reports summarising the number of formal requests from officials about content on their sites.
But there are workarounds, according to former employees, activists and government officials.
A key one is for officials or their allies to complain that a threat, hate speech or celebration of violence violates the company's terms of service, rather than any law.
Such content can be taken down within hours or minutes, and without the paper trail that would go with a court order.
"It is commonplace for federal authorities to directly contact Twitter and ask for assistance, rather than going through formal channels," said an activist who has helped get numerous accounts disabled.
In the San Bernardino case, Facebook said it took down Malik's profile, established under an alias, for violating its community standards, which prohibit praise or promotion of "acts of terror."
The spokesman said there was pro-Islamic State content on the page but declined to elaborate.