Facebook seeks to become ‘hostile place’ for terrorists
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Facebook seeks to become ‘hostile place’ for terrorists

Social media giant announces push to remove extremist content from platform using artificial intelligence alongside bolstered manpower

People pass by the stand of Facebook during the Web Summit at Parque das Nacoes, in Lisbon on November 9, 2016. ( AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)
People pass by the stand of Facebook during the Web Summit at Parque das Nacoes, in Lisbon on November 9, 2016. ( AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)

Facebook said Thursday that it was ramping up the use of artificial intelligence in a push to make the social network “a hostile place” for terrorists and extremists to spread messages of hate.

Pressure has been building on Facebook, along with other internet giants, who stand accused of doing too little, too late to eradicate hate speech and jihadist recruiters from their platforms.

In a joint blog post, the social network’s global policy management director Monika Bickert and counterterrorism policy manager Brian Fishman said Facebook was committed to tackling the issue “head-on.”

“In the wake of recent terror attacks, people have questioned the role of tech companies in fighting terrorism online,” Bickert and Fishman said in the post.

“We want Facebook to be a hostile place for terrorists,” they said, adding: “We believe technology, and Facebook, can be part of the solution.”

They described how the network is automating the process of identifying and removing jihadist content linked to the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and intends to add other extremist organizations over time.

Such technology is already used to block child pornography from Facebook and other services such as YouTube, but Facebook had been reluctant to apply it to other potentially less clear-cut uses. In most cases, Facebook only removes objectionable material if users first report it.

But artificial intelligence is now being used, for instance, to recognize when a freshly posted image or video matches one known to have been previously removed from the social network — which counts nearly two billion users and involves more than 80 languages.

Facebook is also experimenting with machine smarts to understand language well enough to identify words or phrases praising or supporting terrorism, according to the post. And the social network is using software to try to identify terrorism-focused “clusters” of posts, pages, or profiles.

The Facebook page of the US Digital Outreach Team, a group countering extremist propaganda on sites like Twitter and Facebook. (AP/US Digital Outreach Team)
The Facebook page of the US Digital Outreach Team, a group countering extremist propaganda on sites like Twitter and Facebook. (AP/US Digital Outreach Team)

Facebook said it has also gotten better at detecting fake accounts created by “repeat offenders” previously booted from the social network for extremist content.

The effort extends to other Facebook applications, including WhatsApp and Instagram, according to Bickert and Fishman.

Meanwhile, because AI can’t catch everything and sometimes makes mistakes, Facebook is also beefing up its manpower: It previously announced it would hire an extra 3,000 staff to track and remove violent video content.

“We’re constantly identifying new ways that terrorist actors try to circumvent our systems — and we update our tactics accordingly,” Bickert and Fishman said.

The company currently employs more than 150 people who are “exclusively or primarily focused on countering terrorism as their core responsibility.” That includes academic experts on counterterrorism, former prosecutors, former law enforcement agents and analysts and engineers, according to the blog post.

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google-owned YouTube announced a drive last December to stop the proliferation of jihadist videos and messages showing beheadings, executions and other gruesome content.

But they remain under intense scrutiny, and G7 leaders last month issued a joint call for internet providers and social media firms to step up the fight against extremist content online.

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