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Twitter highlights victories in war on extremist content

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A sign is posted on the exterior of Twitter headquarters on April 26, 2017 in San Francisco, California. -- AFP

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter on Sept. 20 touted victories in the battle against tweets promoting extremist violence, saying it has been vanquishing those kinds of accounts before governments even ask.

Twitter touted progress in its latest transparency report, noting that between the start of August in 2015 and June 30 of this year it has suspended 935,897 accounts for “promotion of terrorism.”

Internal monitoring was credited with identifying the bulk of accounts shuttered for these reasons, with less than one percent of the suspensions in the first half of this year resulting from government requests.

Twitter removed 299,649 accounts during the first half of this year for such activity, according to the report.

The figure represented a drop from the prior six months, and three-quarters of the accounts were suspended before firing off a single tweet, according to Twitter.

The San Francisco-based one-to-many messaging service has been under pressure to prevent itself from being used as a platform for spreading hate or recruiting people to jihadist causes.

Twitter classified terror-related accounts as those “that actively incite or promote violence associated with internationally recognized terrorist organizations, promote internationally recognized terrorist organizations, and accounts attempting to evade prior enforcement.”

Abusive behavior was the top category resulting in Twitter accounts being shut down, according to the company.

Facebook this year said it was taking similar steps, and employing artificial intelligence to root out activities that promote violence or extremism.

Group of Seven leader this issued a joint call for internet providers and social media firms to step up the fight against extremist content online.

EUROPE’S WARNING
Twitter’s move comes after European leaders agreed to warn the world’s biggest technology companies that they face fines unless they meet a target of removing terrorist content from the Internet within two hours of it appearing.

At a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations annual meeting, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will address executives from companies including Facebook, Inc., Alphabet, Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and Twitter, Inc.

Their goal is to persuade these tech giants that stopping terrorists from using their platforms should be a priority and the focus for innovation. May’s office pointed to Twitter’s success in this area.

Most of the material that Islamic State puts online is aimed at radicalizing people and encouraging them to carry out attacks at home. Britain has seen four such attacks this year, from the unsophisticated Westminster and London Bridge assaults where the attackers used vehicles and knives to the more advanced bomb attack in Manchester and last week’s failed subway bomb.

Instructions to make bombs are usually hosted on smaller platforms, which often lack the tools to identify and remove content.

May’s government is looking at making Internet companies legally liable if they don’t take terrorist material down quickly. The first two hours after something is put online are considered crucial, as this is when most of the material is downloaded.

Islamic State has developed sophisticated marketing techniques to spread its propaganda before it can be identified and removed. May will say she wants Internet companies to identify material as it’s being uploaded and stop it appearing at all.

“As prime minister, I have visited too many hospitals and seen too many innocent people murdered in my country,” she’ll say, according to her office. “And I say enough is enough. As the threat from terrorists evolves, so must our cooperation.” — AFP with a report from Bloomberg

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