Tech companies including social media monoliths Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft are investing vast amounts of money to combat extremism on their platforms. According to Sky News, the money, aimed at combatting terrorist propaganda through online and local projects, currently stands at a value of more than $100 million. This current investment is separate from the millions already invested in fighting other abuses by tech firms online.
The news comes one day after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced the ‘Internet Safety Strategy’, a renewed effort from the UK Government to police platforms for dangerous content online. The Strategy could see a levy imposed on companies that improperly police cyberbullying, abuse and pornography on their networks.
Richard Allan, Vice President of Policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Facebook, told Sky News that their investment was not a reaction to this criticism, but signalled a sea-change in thinking from social media giants.
Allan said: “Historically I think there was a sense that internet companies would say, ‘We’re not responsible for anything that happens on our platform’. That has shifted, and I think that is the long-term status now. I don’t think we’re going to go back to the days where the internet companies say, ‘Not my problem’. The fact is, it’s all our problem.”
To prevent the local penetration of propaganda into communities, Facebook claims that it is investing millions into community projects that can respond to extremist material with their own ‘counter narratives’. Richard Allan made reference to Facebook’s Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI) as a key component of this drive.
Launched in the UK in June with the help of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the outreach initiative centres on training NGOs on how to monitor and respond to extremist content and the creation of a dedicated support desk at Facebook where concerns can be flagged up.
Allan said: “Some of the more unpleasant elements in society have learned to abuse all forms of internet services. What we want to do with this initiative is make sure that those who are trying to use our services to do good and counter that abuse, have the equal skills and resources. For us to invest in that directly, makes absolute sense.”
The ISD is also currently managing a multi-million pound initiative on behalf of Google to elect what UK-based projects the global firm should invest in. Sasha Havlicek, ISD Director, told Sky News: “We’re very excited about this development, because for about seven years we’ve been saying we desperately need to equip civil society to compete proportionately and effectively with the propaganda machinery of extremist groups.
“The extremists are really sophisticated and they’re very effective. They’ve been using all the tools in the tool kit. But on our side, on the civic side of this, we haven’t, so this is an opportunity to start to do that.”
Some investments from the tech sector have even ensured the survival of these community projects. For example, the Active Change Foundation (ACF), based in East London, lost its Home Office a year ago, as well as its Youth Centre in Walthamstow. However, a £190,000 grant from Google has seen the endurance of some of these projects. Hanif Qadir, Founder of the ACF, welcomed the boost but said that it should not serve as an excuse for the Government to retract funding from his and similar initiatives.
He said: “Countering extremism is a resource-intensive programme, especially if you’re going to do it effectively, because you have to engage in all levels of community and that can only really be funded by the Government.”
“All praise to the tech companies which have stepped in. If it wasn’t for Google, we’d have been finished a year ago. But it is a sticking plaster and sustained government funding is really what we need.”