Are social media companies doing enough to combat Internet extremism?

Are social media companies doing enough to combat Internet extremism?

Earlier this month, the Home Affairs Committee as part of its ongoing inquiry into countering extremism online met with representatives from social media organisations, Google, Facebook and Twitter and counter-terrorism groups. The aim of the meeting was to find out how these companies and organisations were dealing with the issue of online extremism. Members of the committee listened to evidence provided by these organisations and groups about how they were countering extremism on social media and then probed for further information about their efforts. Whilst Google, Facebook and Twitter told MP’s that they were committed to combatting online extremism, the committee criticised them for being unhelpful and uncooperative in counterterrorism investigations. Specifically the social media giants were criticized for rejecting or not complying with information requests from authorities.

The Chair of the committee asked a number of questions focusing on the removal of items that spread terrorist ideology on the internet. He referred to the committee’s previous report that stated ‘person-to-person radicalisation has been replaced by radicalisation and grooming on the internet.’ It was evident from the discussion that took place that the Internet plays a central role in facilitating the propagation and circulation of extremist ideas. Evidence provided to the committee by groups such as Anonymous and Ghost Security revealed that in 289 days they had reported 40,000 suspected terrorist materials in total on the Internet.

Dr. Anthony House, a Manager at Google, leading its central public policy team in Europe the Middle East and Africa explained how Google and YouTube have been effective at removing videos and accounts created by international terrorist groups. House revealed that in 2014 YouTube removed 14 million videos from its site but said that as videos can be re-uploaded the process was a “constant cat-and-mouse game.” Twitter also informed the committee of action it had taken in the last twelve months that had involved taking down tens of thousands of accounts relating to violent extremism.

House also spoke about how Google was working with government agencies and NGOs to improve the understanding of community guidelines and tools such as ‘flagging’ which alerts social media organisations to extremist materials so that they can be deleted. Although the Government and regulators are primarily responsible for internet safety, security and privacy, parents, teachers and practitioners also play a part. Simon Milner from Twitter emphasised that the removal of content was just one part in tackling online extremism and that it is ideology that needs to be challenged.

This is something JAN Trust has long recognised. JAN Trust works closely with the mothers of young Muslims and young people themselves to prevent radicalisation. We have long recognised the importance of addressing internet extremism spending several years researching the issue before developing our Web Guardians programme in response to requests from many within the community. We believe that the mothers of young Muslims can help prevent the radicalisation of some young Muslims with educational tools.

In 2010, we developed our Web Guardians programme which we have delivered in some parts of the UK. Web Guardians aims to raise awareness of online radicalisation amongst mothers from disadvantaged communities, many of whom have little or no education, no English and no employment. It not only educates mothers but equips them with essential Internet literacy, safety and on-line social communications skills enabling them to tackle the issue and safeguard their children.

We also deliver our Preventing Extremism workshops in schools around the UK to parents, teachers and children educating them about online radicalisation and how the internet is used by extremist groups to recruit young people. Our projects have received extensive praise from parents and teachers and pupils. Although it is important for social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to combat online extremism, grassroots organisations such as JAN Trust play a pivotal role in the fight.

To support our work, please visit: