Most people don’t realize how involved Facebook has become in the fight against terrorism.
Although the company has long resisted government surveillance of the social network, they’ve also taken a hard line internally to help keep their 1.6 billion users safe from potential terrorist threats. Some experts are urging Facebook to not lead the way to censorship of the Internet, others believe the tech giant has a responsibility to the world to attack and destroy violent propaganda.
Walking A Thin Line
Facebook has long supported free speech online, but they’re now also tasked with the duty of figuring out when someone has crossed the line with hate speech and terrorist propaganda.
In 2009, tech companies were faced with a similar problem involving child pornography – they quickly gained control of the situation when Microsoft and Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth, developed a tool to recognize the illicit images and prevent them from being shared. In that case, tech companies had a clear line drawn in the sand: child pornography was illegal to create or possess.
The terrorism situation isn’t so clean-cut. Whether coming from Islamic State supporters or homegrown terrorism cells, what constitutes a dangerous post is highly subjective. That’s why Facebook has hired a multi-lingual team of terrorism experts to quietly comb the social network for known terrorists and their associates. Their methods are secret, as are their numbers, but Facebook’s goal isn’t to censor legitimate content, just that which it believes can cause immediate harm.
Helping Without Wanting To
Along with deleting profiles of known terrorists and pro-terrorism content, Facebook is helping counterterrorism groups to spread their messages. They’re helping these groups learn how to develop campaigns that are more likely to go viral and giving away hundreds of dollars’ worth of ad credits so terrorism protesters can generate more views and awareness.
Despite the potential risk to free speech if taken too far, many are applauding Facebook’s efforts. Mark Wallace, of the Counter Extremism Project and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations praised them, saying Facebook was “the social media company that’s on the greatest trajectory to be a solution to the problem,” according to the Wall Street Journal.