Facebook launches drive in UK
Facebook is to step up its attempts to tackle extremist material on the internet by educating charities and other non-government organisations about how to counter hate speech.
The technology company will launch the Online Civil Courage Initiative in the UK on Friday, which includes training organisations about how to monitor and respond to extremist content and the creation of a dedicated support desk at Facebook where concerns can be flagged up.
The launch of the initiative comes after growing criticism of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other technology companies about the proliferation of extremist material online.
Earlier this month, Theresa May called on technology companies to do more to curb the “poisonous propaganda” that fuels terror attacks such as the recent atrocities in Manchester and London. May made the comments after talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, where they agreed to explore creating a new legal liability for technology companies if they failed to remove extremist content.
Facebook is working on the initiative alongside the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a counter-extremism campaign group. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, will reveal the details of the plan in London alongside Brendan Cox, the husband of the murdered MP Jo Cox.
Sandberg said the attacks in London and Manchester were “absolutely heartbreaking” and that “we all have a part to play in stopping violent extremism from spreading”.
She added: “There is no place for hate or violence on Facebook. We use technology like AI to find and remove terrorist propaganda, and we have teams of counter-terrorism experts and reviewers around the world working to keep extremist content off our platform. Partnerships with others — including tech companies, civil society, researchers and governments — are also a crucial piece of the puzzle.
“Some of our most important partnerships are focused on counter-speech, which means encouraging people to speak out against violence and extremism. The UK Online Civil Courage Initiative will support NGOs and community groups who work across the UK to challenge the extremist narratives that cause such harm. We know we have more to do – but through our platform, our partners and our community we will continue to learn to keep violence and extremism off Facebook.”
As well as providing training and a dedicated support desk, Facebook will offer organisations the opportunity to promote campaigns against extremism through its own platforms and provide financial support for academic research into online and offline patterns of extremism and how to respond to it.
Facebook has already launched the initiative in Germany and France. The company declined to say how much funding it was committing to the initiative.
The Jo Cox Foundation is a founding member of the initiative in the UK, as are other anti-hate groups from the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Brendan Cox said: “This is a valuable and much needed initiative from Facebook in helping to tackle extremism. Anything that helps push the extremists even further to the margins is greatly welcome. Social media platforms have a particular responsibility to address hate speech that has too often been allowed to flourish online.
“It is critical that efforts are taken by all online service providers and social networks to bring our communities closer together and to further crack down on those that spread violence and hatred online.”
Last month the Guardian reported that Facebook moderators had identified more than 1,300 posts on the site as “credible terrorist threats” in a single month. One source familiar with Facebook’s counter-terrorism policies warned it faced a “mission impossible” to control the amount of content proliferated by extremists.
A Home Office spokesman said the nature of the terrorist threat faced by the country was constantly evolving.
He added that theywelcomed Facebook’s initiativeto help tackle terrorist and extremist material.
“Technology companies still need to go further and faster in moving towards preventing this type of toxic output being disseminated in the first place,” the Home Office said.
“We look forward to seeing how the industry-led forum, which will combat terrorist use of the internet, will build on this collective response to the threat.”
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