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Terrorism experts: Here's how tech companies should see the problem

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) announced a $5 million innovation fund that will focus on countering hate and extremism on Wednesday. Earlier this year, Facebook (FB) hired 3,000 additional human content monitors, which brings the team’s total count to 7,500. This summer, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter created the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

But beyond throwing money at the problem, companies need to understand the solution.

Yahoo Finance spoke with several counterterrorism experts who believe that internet companies are on the right path, but the issue is more complex than Silicon Valley has acknowledged.

Silicon Valley’s dilemma

There is an inherent conflict between the tech industry and the government, says Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy specializing in online jihadism.

“People in Washington don’t understand how tech companies really work. On the opposite end, many tech companies don’t understand how the government functions,” Zelin said. “It’s hard to square their differences.”

From the conventional government perspective, tech companies need to step up and regulate content on their platforms.

“I’m a strong believer in the Navy view of accountability. When you’re the captain and one of your chiefs screws up and the ship hits a sand bar, you’re responsible,” said Andy Liepman, a senior RAND Corporation policy analyst who previously served as principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center after 30 years in the CIA. “Zuckerberg has to take responsibility for the actions of his company.”

Tech companies, on the other hand, want to provide platforms that are open and dynamic.

“These tech companies are ultimately in the business of making money,” said Jeff Ringel, Director of the Soufan Group, an international consultancy firm that advises governments and corporations on policy and security. “They are private companies. What we have to remember is their job is to make money so they can employ more people and keep that cycle going.”

And while Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pinchai may not want to crack down on their users, calls for regulation are an evolutionary outcome of their scope and scale.

“Tech CEOs and founders created platforms for a particular reason, but they have a responsibility to deal with how people are using their products. They’ve become important places where people react to one another. While they aren’t media companies by name, they are facilitators of content, news, and people,” said Zelin.

Furthermore, tech companies have to think about potential liability if their platforms impact real-world events.

“Tech companies may have a legal responsibility to protect themselves. That’s why they want to be seen as combating this problem,” Ringel argued. “In the same way that cigarette companies and gun manufacturers are being sued because they produce products that can hurt people, tech companies may eventually be sued for facilitating an attack or a violent action.”

‘Very targeted, very tailored’

One thing that Washington and Silicon Valley agree on is the importance of thinking locally.

“We want campaigns that are global. We want to reach a big audience, but we’ve seen that in order to really succeed with counter-speech, it has to be local,” Facebook’s head of counterterrorism Monika Bickert told Yahoo Finance earlier this year.

“Students are the most credible voices and they know the issues better than anybody. At the same time, the insights are shared among all the universities … that allow the program to reach tens of millions of people,” Bickert said.


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