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Tech Titans Promise to Do a Better Job of Fighting Extremist Content

October 20, 2017

Previous complaints about the complexity of the task appear to be crumbling, at least a little.

Last month, British prime minister Theresa May called for tech firms “to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online.” At the time, Alphabet’s general counsel said that would be a struggle, because the “haystacks are unimaginably large and the needles are both very small and constantly changing.”

Now, something’s changed. At least that's the news coming out of this week’s G7 talks in Ischia, Italy. The talks, which involve officials from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S., appear to have included a session with representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. And, according to the BBC, the tech firms  agreed to “do more to remove extremist content within hours of it being posted.”

Speaking to the news agency AFP, Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, said that “these are the first steps towards a great alliance in the name of freedom.” So far, though, it’s not clear what the steps actually are: the only official word seems to be from Twitter’s public policy team, which tweeted that it had an “important and productive conversation on tackling shared objectives” with G7 ministers.

It’s unlikely that the Internet firms have suddenly achieved a step-change in the way they automatically identify extremist content online. But a commitment to buckle down is still progress compared with gesticulating at just how hard a problem it is to solve.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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