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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Monday, July 11, 2011

Google's Process For Extremist Content

Google managed to associate its name with "countering violent extremism" pretty thoroughly last month by hosting a Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin. I've thoroughly expressed my skepticism about CVE elsewhere.

My question for today is: What's Google doing to clean up its own house? Between Blogger and YouTube, Google itself is one of the key distributors of radical content online. The company was recently asked by Sen. Joseph Lieberman to answer a series of questions about its internal efforts to control this content. Here are some samples of what it said:

Read the full document

Blogger’s policies prohibit threatening content, content that promotes “dangerous and illegal activities,” contains hate speech, or inciteful material that encourages “violent action against another person or group of people.” Similar to YouTube, when material of this nature is reported to Blogger, review teams take action to remove the content quickly.
It's kind of hard to believe that no one has reported Blogger site Islam Policy by now, and even harder to believe that IP's content doesn't violate the terms of service outlined about.

Video is uploaded you YouTube at the rate of 35 hours per minute. Because of the massive scale of the platform, it is not possible to pre-screen content. To ensure that our policies are followed, we have a community policing system in place whereby users report prohibited material by selecting the “Flag” link under every video. Our policy review team reviews flagged videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, removing material that violates our Guidelines. In addition, we have a Help & Safety Tool that lets users contact us about threatening comments. A staff of specialists is on hand around the clock taking action to remove and, when appropriate, report such comments.

I get this. I really do. But I am just guessing that the engineers over at Google have found ways to flag uploads for pornographic and snuff content in real time. I admit this is an assumption, but it's based on the fact that we never see news stories about widespread problems with kids stumbling across such content on YouTube. I'm guessing people try to upload porn to YouTube about 1,000 times more often than jihadist propaganda. Aren't there ways to deal with this?

Google has also taken it upon itself to anoint certain Muslim Americans as "helpful moderates" and give them a technological edge.

Google has sought out and worked with groups and individuals who lead Muslim American communities in order to better educate them about using technology to project their messages. Working with personnel from key government agencies and the New America Foundation, we have
provided training on Google tools and services, as well as those of other companies. We demonstrate this by showing examples of non-profit groups from many areas that have successfully taken advantage of Google tools and services. !We have not worked directly on the content of the message but focused rather on increasing the groups' audience and the range of the tools they can use.!

I outlined my objections to this practice in the CVE rant I referenced above. I suspect Google will encounter the same pitfalls that the US Government experienced if it thinks it can figure out who is helpful and who is not.

Read the rest of the document here

I remain highly skeptical that Big Brother -- whether corporate, non-profit or government -- can "help" Muslims deal with a problem whose scale, nature and scope is not well-understood. CVE is about fostering "good Muslims," counterterrorism is about disrupting people who are planning to kill innocents.

The answers Google provided to the HLS subcommittee are big on reassurance and light on details. What the company can do -- and arguably isn't doing well enough -- is disrupt clearly extremist content on a consistent basis. It deserves at least as much attention as fighting porn.

For more about online extremism, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere.

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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