Posted on January 17, 2018

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Detail Fight Against Extremists at Senate Hearing

Ali Breland, The Hill, January 17, 2018

Representatives from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter faced lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to give testimony about extremist content on their platforms.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, the tech giants gave a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Silicon Valley companies as lawmakers probed the companies on what anti-terrorism efforts they’re making.


Despite the relaxed climate of the hearing, lawmakers still underscored the need for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to keep their platforms free of extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.


Facebook, Twitter and YouTube took advantage of their testimony to tout efforts they’ve taken over the past several years to curb the presence of extremist content on their platforms.

The three boasted about how advancements that they had made in machine learning techniques had drastically boosted the amount of extremist content they’ve detected and taken off their platforms, as well as the numbers of employees they have devoted to removing such content.

They also described a partnership they formed between several tech companies to share information about extremists use of their platforms.

The companies use such alliances to swap data like “hashes,” allow them to tag photos and videos that have already been flagged for removal and use their algorithms to quickly detect attempts to re-upload such content and delete it immediately.


Despite the comparative ease of Wednesday’s hearing, there were still tense moments when lawmakers challenged the technology companies’ commitment to keeping extremists and malicious foreign governments off their platform.

“Based on results, you’re not where you need to be for us to be reassured that you’re securing our democracy,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Twitter in regard to its problem with automated accounts being used by such malicious actors. {snip}


Even as major Silicon Valley companies work to clamp down on their platforms, some say the future of terrorists digital efforts may increasingly be out of their hands.

“In some [extremist] forums right now they’re trying to find new platforms where they can communicate in a secure fashion and push their propaganda around the world,” said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has testified before the Senate on Russian operations, who also testified on Wednesday.

“They’re seeking a new home. They just haven’t found it yet.”