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Big Tech Restructures Its Internet Counter-Terror Program as Independent Group

Kiley Roache

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg said social media companies are investing money and stepping up cooperation to blunt violent extremists on their sites, an effort likely to be aided by revamping a tech industry counter-terror group.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), begun in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Google’s YouTube, said Monday it will hire an executive director and staff with the aim of increasing cooperation among its companies and with government agencies in the battle against terrorism and violence on the platforms. The organization, funded by industry contributions, has up to this point been run by a rotating chair drawn from one of the four founding companies.

Group members met Monday with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss steps taken since the Christchurch Call to Action -- a pledge to limit violence after fatal mosque shootings in the country in March were live-streamed on Facebook and the video was re-shared across several sites.

“Today we will report progress against that call, outline where more work is needed and commit to continuing with our collaboration,” Ardern said at an appearance with Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Through the GIFCT, tech companies have collaborated on tools to prevent and respond to terrorist and violent extremist content, and funded counter-terrorism research. Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft’s LinkedIn and Facebook’s WhatsApp have joined the effort, the group said in a blog post.

Sandberg said Facebook’s announced move to rebuild many of its features to highlight user privacy, for example making it easier to send encrypted messages, must be balanced by the need to prevent extremist attacks.

“And so our challenge is to provide the technology that’s very important for consumer privacy, for consumer safety, for the privacy of people’s messages, but still work with law enforcement,” Sandberg said. “One of the things that helps us is that because we have multiple platforms, some encrypted like WhatsApp, some that are not like Facebook and Instagram, we are often able to find people on one and then take them down off of the encrypted platforms.”

Last week, representatives from Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter testified before Congress about their efforts to remove violent content. On Friday, multiple outlets reported that videos of the Christchurch attack could still be found on Facebook.

Responding to those reports, Sandberg said, “we have tried as hard as possible to get things down. We will continue to look for every instance to get it down. That’s why we’re making massive investments.”

(Updates with comments from Sandberg in the seventh paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kiley Roache in New York at kroache@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack, Vlad Savov

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