On June 26, 2017, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube announced the formation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), a new collective effort to prevent the spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. The initial scope of work focused on three core areas of work:
- Knowledge-Sharing: The companies set out to engage with smaller platforms, develop best practices, and build upon counter-speech initiative such as YouTube’s Creators for Change, Jigsaw’s Redirect Method, Facebook’s P2P and OCCI, Microsoft’s partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue for counter-narratives on Bing, and Twitter’s global NGO training program to learn from and contribute to efforts of other groups and discuss further empowerment and training of civil society organizations and individuals.
- Research: The companies endeavored to commission research to inform their counter-speech efforts and guide future technical and policy decisions around the removal of terrorist content.
- Technological Solutions: The companies sought to refine and improve upon existing joint technical work; exchange best practices as they developed and implemented new content detection and classification techniques using machine learning; and define standard transparency reporting methods for terrorist content removals.
On August 1, 2017, GIFCT held its first meeting in San Francisco, California.
In addition to the founding companies of GIFCT, more than two dozen other technology companies and NGOs participated in the meeting. Participants also included United Kingdom Home Secretary Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP and United States Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, as well as representatives from Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United Nations. The meeting agenda included the formalization of goals for collaboration and the identification of specific areas of support needed for small companies as part of GIFCT’s work plan.
The attendees set into motion GIFCT’s three strategies: employing and leveraging technology; sharing knowledge, information and best practices; and conducting/ funding research.
GIFCT began a formal partnership with the UN-mandated group “Tech Against Terrorism”.
GIFCT participated in the following events:
- Heads of State meeting at the UN General Assembly — September
- G7 Interior Ministers meeting — October
- EU Internet Forum in Brussels — December
- GIFCT created a shared industry “hash database”.
- By December 2017, this hash-sharing database — a composite of digital fingerprints — included 40,000 unique pieces of terrorist content flagged by the founding member companies.
- The following companies joined the hash-sharing database: Ask.fm, Cloudinary, Instagram, Justpaste.it, LinkedIn, Oath, and Snap.
GIFCT partnered with Tech Against Terrorism to hold workshops for over 70 smaller tech companies in Jakarta, Paris, Brussels, San Francisco, New York, and Abu Dhabi. These workshops, designed to share best practices on how to disrupt the spread of violent extremist content online, were supported by the Knowledge Sharing Platform, a 2017 Tech Against Terrorism Initiative developed with support from GIFCT and the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.
Best practices included:
- Developing robust terms of service that address terrorist content.
- Using logos and slogans to identify terrorist content.
- Identifying experts to help stay abreast of emerging trends.
- GIFCT partnered with the UK’s Royal United Services Institute and the Brookings Institution to organize a consortium of academic institutions and think tanks.
- This consortium committed to share their research and views on terrorist content online; explore the recruiting tactics terrorists use online; consider the ethics and laws surrounding terrorist content moderation; advance public-private partnerships to address the issue; and assess the resources tech companies need to adequately and responsibly remove terrorist content from their platforms.
- By June of 2018, GIFCT had more than doubled the size of its hash-sharing database to include 88,000 hashes.
- 13 companies had now been approved for membership in the hash-sharing consortium.
- GIFCT supported engagement with over 100 tech companies on four continents through Tech Against Terrorism’s workshops.
- GIFCT convened forums in Europe, the Asia Pacific region, and Silicon Valley for companies, civil society groups, and governments to share experiences and get suggestions for further efforts.
- GIFCT continued to support research and knowledge sharing through the consortium convened by the Royal United Services Institute
- Collaborative efforts also grew to include new relationships with governments and Internal Referral Units like Europol to coordinate the timely and effective removal of terrorist and violent extremist content.
- Regarding knowledge sharing efforts within industry, the GIFCT partnered with Google.org to launch a $5 million innovation fund to counter hate and extremism. The fund gives grants to nonprofits that are countering hate, both online and off. The £1M pilot program in the UK received over 230 applications, 22 of which the GIFCT awarded grants.
- 100k new hashes were inputted to the Hash-Sharing Consortium by member companies.
March 2019 highlighted the importance of industry cooperation regarding the range of terrorists and violent extremists operating online. In response to the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, members of GIFCT utilized channels of communication that GIFCT had developed as well made use of the hash-sharing database to share more than 800 visually-distinct videos related to the attack.
Members also utilized GIFCT networks to share URLs and law enforcement approaches to handle the proliferation of terrorist content in the aftermath of the shootings.
In April 2019, GIFCT supported a relaunch and update of the academic website Jihadology.net.
The purpose of this work, carried out by Tech Against Terrorism in coordination with Jihadology, was to ensure that users with registered academic/research, governmental, journalistic, or humanitarian email addresses can still access important primary research material while ensuring that terrorists and individuals vulnerable to recruitment are prevented from viewing and downloading the most sensitive content.
Jihadology is highly regarded as the internet’s most comprehensive “clearinghouse for jihadiī primary source material and original analysis” and as such, considered to be an essential resource for academia and terrorism researchers.
In May 2019, GIFCT met with G7 governments and tech industry leaders in Paris to discuss how to curb the spread of terrorism and extremism online. At the meeting, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, GIFCT’s founding members signed up to the Christchurch Call to Action. This commitment set forth a nine-point plan that sets out concrete steps the industry will take to address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content.
The plan consists of five individual and five collective actions.
- User Reporting of Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content
- Enhancing technology
- Transparency reports
- Shared technology development Crisis protocols
- Combating hate and bigotry
- GIFCT released its first transparency report
- GIFCT continued to hold global workshops and grow the group of tech and innovation platforms that it supported
- In July, GIFCT announced a cross-platform counter-violent extremist toolkit developed in conjunction with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The toolkit was built to assist civil society organizations in developing online campaigns to challenge extremist ideologies, while prioritizing their safety.
- In partnership with the Global Research Network on Extremism and Technology and the UK’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), GIFCT supported the first part of a commissioned series of academic papers. These papers can be accessed here.
- By July, 2019, the hash-sharing database contained more than 200,000 hashes.
- Also in July, the GIFCT added a fourth pillar to the organization’s core mission: enabling and empowering companies to respond to crises like Christchurch. The horrific terrorist attack highlighted the importance of close communication between members, and between government and the wider industry, which is why the GIFCT introduced joint content incident protocols to enable and empower companies to more quickly and effectively respond to emerging and active events. The protocol, which can be triggered by a real-world event involving murder or attempted murder of defenseless civilians or innocents, outlines steps that tech companies can take to respond quickly to an attack. Based on the joint protocols, we will work together to categorize the type of incident and the anticipated level and degree of online impact. The GIFCT also set up formal channels of communication to share intelligence and content with non-GIFCT companies and other stakeholders, as needed.
At a September meeting at the United Nations General Assembly on the Christchurch Call to Action, GIFCT announced that it will accept three new members: Amazon, LinkedIn, and WhatsApp.
Prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting digital platforms
Four Guiding Goals:
- Empower a broad range of technology companies, independently and collectively, with processes and tools to prevent and respond to abuse of their platforms by terrorists and violent extremists.
- Enable multi-stakeholder engagement around terrorist and violent extremist misuse of the Internet and encourage stakeholders to meet key commitments consistent with GIFCT’s mission.
- Promote civil dialogue online and empower efforts to direct positive alternatives to the messages of terrorists and violent extremists.
- Advance broad understanding of terrorist and violent extremist operations and their evolution, including the intersection of online and offline activities
- Introduced industry’s Content Incident Protocol to guide a collaborated response amongst GIFCT members to terrorist attacks like we saw in Christchurch and combat the spread of terrorist content across the platforms
- Published a cross-platform, countering violent extremism toolkit, developed with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, to help civil society organizations build online campaigns that challenge extremist ideologies, while prioritizing safety
- Released algorithms for our hashing technology to help additional companies build their capacity to use and contribute to the hash-sharing consortium
- Published the first GIFCT Transparency Report to shine a light on our efforts as an industry
- Held four workshops — in the US, Jordan, India and the UK — to discuss and study the latest trends in terrorist and violent extremist activity online.
- In partnership with the Global Research Network on Extremism and Technology and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), GIFCT supported the completion of a 13-series set of research publications. These works can be accessed here.
- Convened over 140 tech companies, 40 NGOs and 15 government bodies across the world to date.
In January 2020, GIFCT began Phase Two of support for its academic research network, led by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), based at King’s College London. ICSR established the Global Network on Extremism and Technology (GNET) and assembled an international consortium of leading academic institutions and experts with core institutional partnerships from the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Singapore to study and share findings on combating terrorist and violent extremist use of digital platforms. GNET builds on Phase One of GIFCT’s academic research network known as the Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology, cultivating a wider network of academic institutions and think tanks as well as collaboration with existing partners.
Core programs developed under the GIFCT’s three pillars— prevent, respond, learn— are supplemented by multi-stakeholder working groups that both conduct distinct projects and advise the Executive Director on related GIFCT efforts. Working groups are convened at the direction of the Executive Director, each with expected outcomes and outputs, strategic approaches, participants, funding and lifespan.
Academic and Practical Research
- Leadership: Facebook
- Objective: To explore innovative multi-sector research collaborations and develop baseline best practices for conducting, funding, and supporting research addressing the nexus of technology and violent extremism.
Content-Sharing Algorithms, Processes, and Positive Interventions
- Leadership: Google/YouTube
- Objective: To collaborate across industry, government and civil society to map content-sharing algorithms and the processes used by industry that may facilitate the consumption of content that may increase user interest in or amplify terrorist and violent extremist content and consider positive interventions and risk mitigation points.
- Industry Leadership: Microsoft
- Objective: Upon initiation of a stakeholder’s protocol, to effectively collaborate across industry, government, and first-responders to minimize the spread of terrorist or violent extremist content online stemming from a real-world event
- Industry Leadership: Twitter
- Objective: To consider existing legal frameworks and identify challenges and opportunities relating to the sharing of information and data related to the moderation of terrorist and violent extremist content online while ensuring privacy, innovation, and empowering all stakeholders (governments, civil society organizations, and tech companies).
- Industry Leadership: Facebook
- Objective: Evaluating gaps between the technical requirements of smaller tech and availability of solutions in order to inform the overall strategy of the Working Group; supporting the development and adoption of technological solutions to prevent and disrupt the spread of terrorist content online; assessing ethical and human rights concerns associated with various technical approaches.
- Industry Leadership: Facebook
- Objective: Developing best practices and easy access to resources that facilitate greater transparency from all relevant stakeholders while respecting privacy and human rights.
On June 23, GIFCT announced Nicholas J. Rasmussen as the first full-time executive director of the organization and shared the first members of its Independent Advisory Committee (IAC). Nicholas J. Rasmussen, formerly Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, began serving as the first full-time GIFCT executive director on June 29th.
“Terrorists have shown they will relentlessly adopt technology and spread their messages and activities online,” said incoming GIFCT executive director Nicholas J. Rasmussen. “The GIFCT is really the first organization to bring together every element of society needed to address the issue, and we’ll build on the early progress from member companies by growing the organization’s capacity to do more and making new, tangible progress to protect people.”
The GIFCT also announced the 21 members of its Independent Advisory Committee (IAC). Members span seven governments, two international organizations, and 12 civil society organizations and represent a wide range of expertise. Government representatives come from the nations of Canada, France, Ghana, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union and the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate serve as the two international organizations on the IAC. Civil society representatives hail from four continents and eight countries and bring to bear expertise from work across counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism non-governmental organizations, digital and human rights groups, and academia. The IAC convened its first working meeting this week and the GIFCT scheduled its inaugural Multi-Stakeholder Forum for July.
These announcements represented months of work by the 2020 GIFCT chair Microsoft, previous GIFCT chairs Facebook and Google, and all GIFCT member organizations. These steps also underscored how GIFCT had matured its structure to emphasize the independence of the organization and reflect its multi-stakeholder orientation, with participation by industry, government, civil society, and academia.
In July 2020, GIFCT planned and executed the 2020 Multi-Stakeholder Forum. For those of you who were unable to attend either or both components of the Forum, recordings of both Parts I and II are available on our event webpage.
In alignment with the United Nations General Assembly’s 75th meeting in September 2020, Executive Director Rasmussen joined Chatham House’s Director Dr. Robin Niblett CMG and other colleagues for a candid virtual roundtable discussion on the responsibility of tech companies in responding to terrorist and violent extremist misuse of their platforms. Also in September, Mr. Rasmussen joined the “Aqaba Process Virtual Meeting on COVID-19 Response” to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the threat landscape and, moreover, the importance of global coordination and resilience strategies. Additionally, he joined the Christchurch Call Network for a discussion on future priorities and recognized the High Court’s August 27 sentence bringing justice to the family and friends of the victims of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings.
On September 30, Executive Director Rasmussen sent a letter to a set of civil society stakeholders, inviting them to join him later that month for a discussion on a number of issues they raised in a letter addressed to him earlier that summer. The response stressed that protecting and promoting human rights will not be an afterthought in GIFCT’s work to counter terrorism and violent extremism online under new independent leadership. On the contrary, fundamental human rights—from freedom of speech to the liberty to exist—are precisely what GIFCT seeks to defend as part and parcel of its organizational mission.
In October, the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC) held its first official convening with Bjørn Ihler as chair. Bjørn gathered the representatives from the Committee’s seven governments, two intergovernmental organizations, and 12 civil society organizations across four continents to discuss the GIFCT’s work to date and share with the Operating Board and Executive Director the body’s important and diverse perspectives on future strategies and initiatives. Also in October, GIFCT launched its Twitter account to communicate with on the latest policy and technological developments with its body of global stakeholders.
In November, GIFCT launched its website rebrand.