On February 23, the U.S. Department of Justice met with officials from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to discuss how online social media firms can take the lead in disrupting online radicalization.
Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, attended the meeting and told Reuters it was “a recognition that the government is ill-positioned and ill-equipped to counter ISIS online.”
George Selim, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office for “countering violent extremism” activities, said the federal government is not equipped to push back against “online recruitment efforts” from terror groups. Selim said the objective is to help “communities and young people to amplify their own messages.”
Reuters reports that the U.S. government is also investing in “counter-narrative” programs “at schools and community groups.” Another program, funded by Facebook and the U.S. government, involved “peer-to-peer (P2P) college courses that teach students to create their own anti-militant messaging.”
A senior FBI official told Reuters that the bureau works with many other non-governmental organizations on spreading “counter-narrative” programs.
This latest meeting between social media firms and the U.S. government represents a continuation of policies the Obama Administration sought to enact at the end of 2015. In December 2015, President Obama gave a speech urging “high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.” The speech came after the terror attack in San Bernardino, California.
Despite the Obama administration’s push for closer relationships, it seems that many tech companies may be resistant to working with the government. Reuters reported in December that former employees of Facebook, Google and Twitter, stated that the companies “all worry that if they are public about their true level of cooperation with Western law enforcement agencies, they will face endless demands for similar action from countries around the world.”
In January 2016, The Guardian reported that senior intelligence officials were flying to California to meet with executives from Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube and others.
The Guardian obtained a copy of the agenda which showed the White House’s desire to channel the tech firms’ talent into a fight against radicalization.
It states: “In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?”
The meeting involved Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, National Security Agency chair Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper and FBI director James Comey.
What does the increasingly cozy relationship between government and technology companies mean for the privacy of Americans? Should the people continue to use these services if they agree to operate more closely with the already intrusive U.S. government?
We should remain skeptical of the government’s claims regarding their need to access private information shared through social networks.