Social networks ‘passing the buck’ in tackling extremism

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SOCIAL networks have become “recruiting platforms for terrorism”, and the failure of sites to tackle the issue has left some parts of the internet “ungoverned, unregulated and lawless”, an influential group of MPs has warned.

A scathing report by the Home Affairs Select Committee says social media giants are “consciously failing” to tackle the use of their sites to promote terrorism - with companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter accused of “passing the buck” when it comes to tackling online extremism.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said forums, message boards and social media platforms are “the lifeblood of Daesh” - also known as Islamic State (IS) - and other terrorist groups for recruitment and financing.

He said: “Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter, with their billion-dollar incomes, are consciously failing to tackle this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational legal status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror.”

It is “alarming” that teams of “only a few hundred” employees monitor billions of accounts, while Twitter does not proactively report extremist content to law enforcement agencies, according to the report.

IS has assembled a vast online propaganda machine - presenting authorities with a major challenge to contain the threat of radicalisation.

The role of online grooming by extremists has played a part in at least one high-profile case from the region in recent years.

Last May, Talha Asmal, 17, from Dewsbury, became Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber after apparently blowing himself up in Iraq. His family claimed he had been exploited over the internet in a “calculated” act of grooming.

Last summer an investigation by The Yorkshire Post revealed that more than a dozen children aged 11 or younger in Yorkshire and the North East were deemed as being at risk of radicalisation by extremist groups.

The Select Committee report said networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda” and have become the “recruiting platforms for terrorism”.

The committee called for companies to publish quarterly statistics showing how many sites and accounts they have taken down and why.

It also recommended that a specialist police unit set up to target terror-related material online is upgraded into a round-the-clock “central hub”.

Mr Vaz added: “The Government must develop an effective counter-narrative to the slick and effective propaganda machine being run by Daesh.”

Last week Twitter said it had taken down 235,000 accounts for violating policies related to promotion of terrorism in six months from February. Google told the committee it had removed more than 14m videos in 2014 in relation to all types of abuse.

Simon Milner, director of policy at Facebook UK, said: “For years we have been working closely with experts to support counter speech initiatives, encouraging people to use Facebook and other online platforms to condemn terrorist activity and to offer moderate voices in response to extremist ones.”

Security Minister Ben Wallace said the battle against terrorist recruiters “must be fought on several fronts including online as well as in our communities”.

He said extremism “is not something that can be defeated by Government and law enforcement alone - it is vital that everyone plays their part”.

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