Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism: an update on our efforts to use technology, support smaller companies and fund research to fight terrorism online

June 18, 2018 by GIFCT

Last year, we—YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter—formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). Since then, we’ve worked collaboratively to thwart terrorists’ use of our services and play our part in addressing the global challenge of terrorism, together with experts from government and civil society. One year on, we wanted to share an update on our efforts to use technology, support smaller companies, and fund research to counter the ever-evolving use of the internet by terrorist groups.

Terrorist use of the internet is an industry-wide problem, so it requires an industry-wide solution. Terrorist groups typically upload the same content to multiple platforms, hoping to maximize their reach and maintain even limited availability of their material online. Our definitions of terrorism are not specific to one group, religion or ideology. The GIFCT aims to bring the tech sector together and present a united front against the online dissemination of terrorist content. By sharing technology and tools, and by running training sessions around the world for smaller companies who may have fewer resources and less experience tackling terrorist content, we are driving progress across our industry and significantly disrupting terrorist activity online. As we build partnerships across the industry, we’ve focused on three key areas: technological approaches, knowledge sharing, and research.

Using technology to disrupt terrorists online

Since our formation in 2017, we’ve added 88,000 hashes to our industry “hash sharing” database, up from 40,000 in December, which allows member companies to create digital fingerprints of any terrorist content posted to their sites and share it with the other companies in the coalition so that we can all more easily detect and review similar content for removal. Since 2017, we’ve expanded the number of companies who contribute to and benefit from the database from 4 to 13, and we’ll continue to invest in this -- with a goal of reaching 100,000 hashes in the shared database by the end of 2018. We are on track to far exceed that goal.

Working with Twitter, GIFCT is further supporting a process to alert other companies to specific pieces of content that have been linked to by accounts Twitter has removed for the promotion of terrorism. Nine companies are participating in the beta test, and 4734 unique URLs have been flagged thus far.

Sharing knowledge and supporting smaller companies

As individual companies, we’ve amassed considerable experience in tackling extremist and violent content on our platforms -- and as the habits of terrorists change, we have a valuable role to play in supporting other, smaller tech companies as they ramp up their efforts. Together with the U.N.-mandated Tech Against Terrorism initiative — which last year launched a Knowledge Sharing Platform with the support of GIFCT and the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate — we have held six workshops in Jakarta, Paris, Brussels, San Francisco, New York, and Abu Dhabi reaching more than 70 smaller tech companies to share best practices on how to disrupt the spread of violent extremist content online. They include developing robust terms of service that address terrorist content, using logos and slogans to identify it, and identifying experts to help stay abreast of emerging trends.

Funding research to stay one step ahead

As we make our services increasingly hostile to terrorist content, and support smaller companies to do the same, we can expect that the tactics of terrorists will change just as they would on the ground. That’s why funding research to map how terrorists’ use of the internet evolves is so important in allowing us to stay ahead of these fast-moving threats.

We have partnered with the UK’s Royal United Services Institute and the Brookings Institution to organize a consortium of academic institutions and think tanks who will share their research and views on terrorist content online; exploring the recruiting tactics terrorists use online; the ethics and laws surrounding terrorist content moderation; public-private partnerships to address the issue; and the resources tech companies need to adequately and responsibly remove terrorist content from their platforms.

For our companies, combating online terrorism isn’t just a business concern or a technical challenge -- it’s a societal imperative, to protect our collective freedoms and secure our users from harm -- and we cannot do it alone. We’re grateful for the support of and collaboration with governments, international organisations and NGOs around the world, including the EU Internet Forum and the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate. We look forward to sharing more updates in the coming months.