TECH AGAINST TERRORISM

Social media giants create organisation to fight online terrorist activities

Almost a year back, the world’s largest tech companies, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft joined hands to fight terrorism on social media by forming an organisation called Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).

The main goal of this organisation is to disrupt the working of terrorist organisations like Islamic State(IS) and Al-Qaida.

The companies commended their first year performances with regard to this; however they still face a lot of challenges. The companies rely on Artificial Intelligence to counter act. This technology is used as 136,000 photos are shared on Facebook, 350,000 tweets go out on Twitter, and over 300 hours of video uploaded on YouTube every single minute. It is extremely difficult to keep a track on all of this data. Hence, Facebook uses image tracking which blocks users from sharing an image which has been previously identified as a terrorist. Similarly, YouTube says that 98% of pro-terrorism videos which it removes are also flagged by its algorithm. However, the problem with this is that if these terrorist groups are blocked from a particular platform, they just jump to another one. To target cases like this, GIFCT has designed an industry shared database of ‘hashes. A hash is a unique digital fingerprint which tracks online activities of a user. This means, whenever terrorist content is removed from by one GIFCT member, the hash is shared with other participants of the organisation which enables them to block the user on their site as well.

9 other companies have joined hands with the already existing companies in the organisation which has helped GIFCT add 88,000 hashes to it’s database. These new companies include Instagram and LinkedIn. The progress has definitely hindered the use of social media platforms for terrorist organisations.

However, the terrorist groups resorted to the use of lesser known and smaller tech companies to share extremist ideas when they were blocked. Hence, GIFCT collaborated with Tech against Terror initiative and UN Counter-Terrorism Committee to host workshops for smaller tech companies in order to share best practices on how to disrupt the spread of violent extremist content online.

 

As there is an ongoing issue of reaching terrorists on the web, there are challenges of a potential overreach. Some data might be wrongly identified as terrorist data and can be blocked as the AI cannot work on 100% accuracy. The algorithm sometimes identifies citizens fighting for democracy against abusive and oppressive administration as pro-terrorism. There is no proper definition as someone’s terrorist can be someone else’s freedom fighter.  Such troubles in recognizing terrorism are well known. The steps taken by GIFCT are amazing for obvious reasons, however,  its still just the start to counter the biggest threat to humanity.

By Abhishek Aggarwal

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