Tech giants promise clampdown on extremism – but fail to say how or when

Tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter have promised a clampdown on extremism following a meeting with world leaders – but failed to say how or when the measures would be implemented.

Amazon and Microsoft were also among those who agreed on a nine-point plan of action after the meeting in Paris, named the Christchurch Call to Action. 

The meeting, hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, was in response to the terror attack on mosques in Christchurch in March, in which 51 people were killed in an atrocity livestreamed on Facebook.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left, today) co-chaired a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (right) in Paris today urging world leaders and chiefs of tech companies to sign the 'Christchurch Call,' a pledge to eliminate violent extremist content online. Hours earlier, Facebook said it would now ban users from livestreaming for 30 days if they break the site's rules in a new crackdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left, today) co-chaired a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (right) in Paris today urging world leaders and chiefs of tech companies to sign the 'Christchurch Call,' a pledge to eliminate violent extremist content online. Hours earlier, Facebook said it would now ban users from livestreaming for 30 days if they break the site's rules in a new crackdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left, today) co-chaired a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (right) in Paris today urging world leaders and chiefs of tech companies to sign the ‘Christchurch Call,’ a pledge to eliminate violent extremist content online. Hours earlier, Facebook said it would now ban users from livestreaming for 30 days if they break the site’s rules in a new crackdown

In a joint statement, the tech companies said they would each take individual steps to improve their policies on violent content, as well as increase collaboration in order to fight the spread of such content.

But the text, which is not legally binding, did not outline any concrete steps that would be taken by individual firms, nor set any timeframe for putting any new measures in place.

However the United States will not join the international bid to stamp out violent extremism online, the White House said today, while stressing that Washington backs the initiative’s aims.

‘While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected’ in the so-called ‘Christchurch Call,’ the White House said.  

Hours before the meeting today, Facebook announced it would ban users from livestreaming for 30 days if they break the site’s rules. 

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) is pictured greeting Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of the talks at the Elysee Palace today

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) is pictured greeting Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of the talks at the Elysee Palace today

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) is pictured greeting Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of the talks at the Elysee Palace today

Ardern played a central role in the Paris meetings, which she called a significant 'starting point' for changes in government and tech industry policy. French President Macron (right) is pictured sitting next to Ardern for talks that also involved European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Prime Minister Theresa May (in red)

Ardern played a central role in the Paris meetings, which she called a significant 'starting point' for changes in government and tech industry policy. French President Macron (right) is pictured sitting next to Ardern for talks that also involved European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Prime Minister Theresa May (in red)

Ardern played a central role in the Paris meetings, which she called a significant ‘starting point’ for changes in government and tech industry policy. French President Macron (right) is pictured sitting next to Ardern for talks that also involved European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Prime Minister Theresa May (in red)

Facebook is introducing a 'one strike' policy for those who violate its most serious policies in response to the live broadcasting of the Christchurch shooting on its platform where a self-described white supremacist used Facebook Live to stream his rampage at two mosques

Facebook is introducing a 'one strike' policy for those who violate its most serious policies in response to the live broadcasting of the Christchurch shooting on its platform where a self-described white supremacist used Facebook Live to stream his rampage at two mosques

Facebook is introducing a ‘one strike’ policy for those who violate its most serious policies in response to the live broadcasting of the Christchurch shooting on its platform where a self-described white supremacist used Facebook Live to stream his rampage at two mosques

The social network said it was introducing a ‘one strike’ policy for those who violate its most serious rules – but did not specify exactly what violations would earn a ban or how it will better detect this kind of activity on line. 

A Facebook spokeswoman has said today it would not have been possible for the Christchurch shooter to use Live on his account under the new rules – but they did not say what rules he would have violated. 

HOW TO REPORT A LIVE VIDEO 

Facebook uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect objectionable material, while at the same time relying on the public to flag up content that violates its standards.

To report live video, a user must know to click on a small set of three gray dots on the right side of the post.

When you click on ‘report live video,’ you’re given a choice of objectionable content types to select from, including violence, bullying and harassment.

You’re also told to contact law enforcement in your area if someone is in immediate danger.

Prime Minister Ardern welcomed Facebook’s pledge. She said she herself inadvertently saw the Christchurch attacker’s video when it played automatically in her Facebook feed.

‘There is a lot more work to do, but I am pleased Facebook has taken additional steps today … and look forward to a long-term collaboration to make social media safer,’ she said in a statement.

Ardern played a central role in the Paris meetings, which she called a significant ‘starting point’ for changes in government and tech industry policy.

Twitter, Google, Microsoft and several other companies took part, along with the leaders of Britain, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan and the European Union.

The CEOs and world leaders were looking to agree on guidelines they will call the ‘Christchurch Call,’ named after the New Zealand city where the attack on a mosque took place. 

In a joint statement, tech firms said: ‘The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March were a horrifying tragedy. And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.

‘The Christchurch Call announced today expands on the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), and builds on our other initiatives with government and civil society to prevent the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content.

‘Additionally, we are sharing concrete steps we will take that address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content, including continued investment in technology that improves our capability to detect and remove this content from our services, updates to our individual terms of use, and more transparency for content policies and removals.

‘Terrorism and violent extremism are complex societal problems that require an all-of-society response. For our part, the commitments we are making today will further strengthen the partnership that governments, society and the technology industry must have to address this threat.’

The five companies have each agreed to individually update their terms of use to expressly prohibit the distribution of such content, as well as establishing new tools to make it easier for users to report violent content.

Twitter, Google, Microsoft and several other companies also took part, along with the leaders of Britain, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan and the European Union. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured with Emmanuel Macron at the Elsee Palace today

Twitter, Google, Microsoft and several other companies also took part, along with the leaders of Britain, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan and the European Union. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured with Emmanuel Macron at the Elsee Palace today

Twitter, Google, Microsoft and several other companies also took part, along with the leaders of Britain, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan and the European Union. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured with Emmanuel Macron at the Elsee Palace today

Facebook said today that it would tighten access to its livestreaming feature as New Zealand's premier Jacinda Ardern (left, today) and French leader Emmanuel Macron (right) launched a 'Christchurch Call' initiative to tackle the spread of violence and extremism online

Facebook said today that it would tighten access to its livestreaming feature as New Zealand's premier Jacinda Ardern (left, today) and French leader Emmanuel Macron (right) launched a 'Christchurch Call' initiative to tackle the spread of violence and extremism online

Facebook said today that it would tighten access to its livestreaming feature as New Zealand’s premier Jacinda Ardern (left, today) and French leader Emmanuel Macron (right) launched a ‘Christchurch Call’ initiative to tackle the spread of violence and extremism online

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was among those invited to talks today in Paris

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was among those invited to talks today in Paris

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was among those invited to talks today in Paris

The agreement also includes pledges to invest in new technology to better find and remove inappropriate posts, as well introduce new checks on livestreams and publish regular transparency reports.

Collaboratively, the five firms have said they will for the first time work together on crisis protocols, establishing with governments and other organisations a protocol for responding to active terror events.

The companies have also committed to increase the amount of shared technology development taking place in the industry, as well as offering more education for users on how to report and respond to such content. 

The ‘Christchurch Call’ was discussed as over 80 CEOs and executives from technology companies gather in Paris for a ‘Tech for Good’ conference meant to address how they can use their global influence for public good – for example by promoting gender equality, diversity in hiring and greater access to technology for lower income users. 

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had earlier told reporters, ‘I think everybody agrees that a higher level of responsibility is demanded from all of the platforms … I mean there still are videos of shootings available on the net. That’s inexcusable, simply unacceptable.’

‘What you have to work out is a way to guarantee you’re not censoring legitimate discussion. And it’s a hard line to draw sometimes,’ Kerry said.

Earlier, Facebook said that its new ban would be applied from a user’s first violation. 

Vice president of integrity at Facebook, Guy Rosen, said that in the violations would include a user linking to a statement from a terrorist group with no context in a post. 

The restrictions will also be extended into other features on the platform over the coming weeks, beginning with stopping those same people from creating ads on Facebook. 

Mr Rosen said in a statement: ‘Following the horrific recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, we’ve been reviewing what more we can do to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate.’

Prime Minister Ardern co-chaired the meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris today urging world leaders and chiefs of tech companies to sign the ‘Christchurch Call,’ a pledge to eliminate violent extremist content online. 

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) arrives ahead of a 'Tech For Good' meet-up at Hotel Marigny in Paris today

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) arrives ahead of a 'Tech For Good' meet-up at Hotel Marigny in Paris today

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) arrives ahead of a ‘Tech For Good’ meet-up at Hotel Marigny in Paris today

Orange CEO Stephane Richard (right) and Google's Jacquelline Fuller (left) were among those who met for talks at the Paris 'Tech For Good' meeting

Orange CEO Stephane Richard (right) and Google's Jacquelline Fuller (left) were among those who met for talks at the Paris 'Tech For Good' meeting

Orange CEO Stephane Richard (right) and Google’s Jacquelline Fuller (left) were among those who met for talks at the Paris ‘Tech For Good’ meeting

The political meeting was run in parallel with an initiative launched by Macron called 'Tech for Good' bringing together 80 tech chiefs in Paris. Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chair of the Alibaba Group, was among the tech bosses attending the 'Tech For Good' meeting at Hotel Marigny in Paris

The political meeting was run in parallel with an initiative launched by Macron called 'Tech for Good' bringing together 80 tech chiefs in Paris. Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chair of the Alibaba Group, was among the tech bosses attending the 'Tech For Good' meeting at Hotel Marigny in Paris

The political meeting was run in parallel with an initiative launched by Macron called ‘Tech for Good’ bringing together 80 tech chiefs in Paris. Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chair of the Alibaba Group, was among the tech bosses attending the ‘Tech For Good’ meeting at Hotel Marigny in Paris

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured in Paris today), a member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporters that there was widespread consensus 'a higher level of responsibility is demanded from all of the platforms'

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured in Paris today), a member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporters that there was widespread consensus 'a higher level of responsibility is demanded from all of the platforms'

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured in Paris today), a member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporters that there was widespread consensus ‘a higher level of responsibility is demanded from all of the platforms’

Users who break certain rules relating to 'dangerous organisations and individuals' would be banned from Facebook Live for a set time. Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) was expected to attend a Paris meeting of world leaders and tech companies to sign the 'Christchurch Call' but will now be represented by his deputy Nick Clegg

Users who break certain rules relating to 'dangerous organisations and individuals' would be banned from Facebook Live for a set time. Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) was expected to attend a Paris meeting of world leaders and tech companies to sign the 'Christchurch Call' but will now be represented by his deputy Nick Clegg

Users who break certain rules relating to ‘dangerous organisations and individuals’ would be banned from Facebook Live for a set time. Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) was expected to attend a Paris meeting of world leaders and tech companies to sign the ‘Christchurch Call’ but will now be represented by his deputy Nick Clegg 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had been expected to attend the summit, was absent. He was instead represented by vice president for global affairs and communications Nick Clegg, the former British politician.

A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while livestreaming the attacks on Facebook. 

Footage spread across the web after the gunman live-streamed his spree on Facebook.

Coming under fire for its delayed and insufficient reaction to the incident, the social media platform said it removed 1.5 million videos on its site in the 24 hours after the incident.  

According to the company, the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast but about 4,000 times in total. 

None of the people who watched live video of the shooting flagged it to moderators, and the first user report of the footage didn’t come in until 12 minutes after it ended.

According to Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s deputy general counsel, Facebook removed the video ‘within minutes’ of being notified by police.

The delay however underlining the challenge tech companies face in policing violent or disturbing content in real time.

Facebook’s moderation process still relies largely on an appeals process where users can flag up concerns with the platform which then reviews it through human moderators.  

A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while live streaming the attacks on Facebook. The image shows Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred

A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while live streaming the attacks on Facebook. The image shows Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred

A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 while live streaming the attacks on Facebook. The image shows Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred

Currently Facebook relies on human reviewers through an appeals process and in some cases – such as those relating to ISIS and terrorism – automatic removal for taking down offensive and dangerous activity. 

The latter includes AI driven machine learning to assess posts that indicate support for ISIS or al-Qaeda, said Monika Bickert, Global Head of Policy Management, and Brian Fishman, Head of Counterterrorism Policy in a blog post from November 2018.  

In some cases, we will automatically remove posts when the tool indicates with very high confidence that the post contains support for terrorism. We still rely on specialised reviewers to evaluate most posts, and only immediately remove posts when the tool’s confidence level is high enough that its ‘decision’ indicates it will be more accurate than our human reviewers.’

Ms Bickert added: ‘At Facebook’s scale neither human reviewers nor powerful technology will prevent all mistakes. That’s why we waited to launch these automated removals until we had expanded our appeals process to include takedowns of terrorist content.’

Mr Rosen added that technical innovation is needed to get ahead of large amounts of modified videos designed to get past sensors, like those uploaded after the massacre.

‘One of the challenges we faced in the days after the attack was a proliferation of many different variants of the video of the attack.

‘People – not always intentionally – shared edited versions of the video which made it hard for our systems to detect.’

Facebook said in a blog post in late March that it had identified more than 900 different versions of the footage.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube all raced to remove video footage in the New Zealand mosque shooting that spread across social media after its live broadcast. The companies are all taking part in the summit this week in Paris to curb such online activity

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube all raced to remove video footage in the New Zealand mosque shooting that spread across social media after its live broadcast. The companies are all taking part in the summit this week in Paris to curb such online activity

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube all raced to remove video footage in the New Zealand mosque shooting that spread across social media after its live broadcast. The companies are all taking part in the summit this week in Paris to curb such online activity

The company has pledged 7.5 million dollars (£5.8 million) towards new research partnerships in a bid to improve its ability to automatically detect offending content after some manipulated edits of the Christchurch attack managed to bypass existing detection systems.

It will work with the University of Maryland, Cornell University and The University of California, Berkeley, to develop new techniques that detect manipulated media, whether it is imagery, video or audio, as well as ways to distinguish between people who unwittingly share manipulated content and those who intentionally create them. 

‘This work will be critical for our broader efforts against manipulated media, including DeepFakes,’ Mr Rosen added.

‘We hope it will also help us to more effectively fight organised bad actors who try to outwit our systems as we saw happen after the Christchurch attack.’

Google also struggled to remove new uploads of the attack on its video sharing website YouTube.

The massacre was New Zealand’s worst peacetime shooting and spurred calls for tech companies to do more to combat extremism on their services. 

During the opening of a safety engineering centre (GSEC) in Munich on Tuesday, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, Kent Walker, admitted that the tech giant still needed to improve its systems for finding and removing dangerous content.

‘In the situation of Christchurch, we were able to avoid having live-streaming on our platforms, but then subsequently we were subjected to a really somewhat unprecedented attack on our services by different groups on the internet which had been seeded by the shooter,’ Mr Walker said. 

The French Council of the Muslim Faith is using laws that prohibit ‘broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism’. President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Mohamed Moussaoui (pictured)

The French Council of the Muslim Faith is using laws that prohibit ‘broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism’. President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Mohamed Moussaoui (pictured)

The French Council of the Muslim Faith is using laws that prohibit ‘broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism’. President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Mohamed Moussaoui (pictured)

Mr Macron has repeatedly stated that the status quo is unacceptable.

‘Macron was one of the first leaders to call the prime minister after the attack, and he has long made removing hateful online content a priority,’ New Zealand’s ambassador to France, Jane Coombs, told journalists on Monday.

‘It’s a global problem that requires a global response,’ she said.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on Saturday, Ms Ardern said the ‘Christchurch Call’ will be a voluntary framework that commits signatories to put in place specific measures to prevent the uploading of terrorist content.

Ms Ardern has not made specific demands of social media companies in connection with the pledge, but has called for them ‘to prevent the use of live streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks.

Firms themselves will be urged to come up with concrete measures, the source said, for example by reserving live broadcasting to social media accounts whose owners have been identified.

An Islamic group is even suing Facebook and YouTube for hosting footage of the New Zealand terror attack.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith is using laws that prohibit ‘broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism’ in its attempt, made after the shootings in March.  

HOW DOES FACEBOOK MODERATE ITS CONTENT?  

Currently Facebook relies on human reviewers and moderators and in some cases – like those relating to ISIS and terrorism – automatic removal for offensive and dangerous activity.  

The manual moderation relies largely on an appeals process where users can flag up concerns with the platform which then reviews it through human moderators.  

However,  none of the 200 viewers of the live broadcast of the Christchurch, New Zealand terror shooting flagged it to Facebook’s moderators. 

In some cases, Facebook automatically removes posts using an AI driven algorithm indicates with very high confidence that the post contains support for terrorism including ISIS and al-Qaeda.  

But the system overall still relies specialised reviewers to evaluate most posts, and only immediately remove posts when the tool’s confidence level is high enough that its ‘decision’ indicates it will be more accurate than that of humans.

According to ex-Facebook executive Monika Bickert, its machine learning tools have been critical to reducing the amount of time terrorist content reported by users stays on the platform from 43 hours in the first quarter of 2018 to 18 hours in the third quarter of 2018.  

Ms Bickert added: ‘At Facebook’s scale neither human reviewers nor powerful technology will prevent all mistakes.’

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