The internet is for
That’s according to a report by the UK’s Home Ministry, which claims the medium is inseparable from the message, especially if it’s a US tech company.
Facebook, Twitter and Google and are deliberately failing to stop terrorists from using their websites to promote terrorism because they believe it will “damage their brands”, MPs have warned.
MPs warned that social media websites are becoming the “vehicle of choice” for spreading terrorist propaganda but websites are policing billions of accounts and messages with just a “few hundred” employees.
I’m pretty sure giving terrorists free rein is more “damaging” to “brands” than the current status quo. Sure, chasing terrorists off the internet is just another form of whack-a-mole, but it’s not as though these companies aren’t trying. Facebook’s policing of content tends to lean towards overzealous. Twitter just removed over 200,000 terrorist-related accounts. And as for Google, it’s busy bending over backward for everyone, from copyright holders to a few dozen misguided governments. But the internet — including terrorists — perceives censorship as damage and quickly routes around it.
The argument can be made (and it’s a pretty good argument) that it might be more useful to have terrorists chatting on open platforms where they can easily be monitored, rather than pushing them towards “darker” communications methods. But it’s tough to reason with lawmakers who find big corporations to be the easiest targets for their displeasure.
And, really, their complaints are nothing more than a cheap form of class warfare, one that tacitly asks millions of non-terrorist internet users to sympathize with a government seeking to gain more control over the platforms they use.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, said: “Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter, with their billion-dollar incomes, are consciously failing to tackle this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational legal status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror.”
That’s what the MPs are really seeking: a way to carve off a slice of these billion-dollar incomes. Vaz fears the “Wild West” internet (one filled with Middle Eastern desperadoes, apparently…) because it’s “ungoverned” and “unregulated.” If both of those “problems” are fixed, he’ll presumably be able to sleep better — perhaps warmed by the flow of a new revenue stream or soothed by an expansion of his government’s powers. Either way, these companies should have to shoulder the blame for terrorism’s continued existence.
Some might make the argument that the government isn’t doing enough to fight terrorism. After all, “billions” of dollars go towards this battle every year, and every year nothing appears to change.
The report points specifically to the supposedly “low” number of employees policing posted content.
“It is alarming that these companies have teams of only a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts…”
Apparently, these billion-dollar companies are expected to move towards a 1:1 ratio of moderators to users. Vaz also claims these companies need to take a “no questions asked” attitude towards law enforcement demands to have content taken down. If so, perhaps the UK government should start hiring more law enforcement officers and move the needle more towards a 1:1 ratio of constables to internetizens… or at least a 1:1 ratio of constables to platform content moderators.
The report also points to various “failures” within the UK government, suggesting anti-terrorism laws just aren’t quite strict enough. It notes that police have allowed alleged terrorists to leave the country while on bail because they haven’t seized their passports. And an official from Scotland Yard asserts — with wording that suggests the UK doesn’t have quite enough restraints on speech yet — that existing laws can’t shut down the sort of thing the report complains that Google, Facebook, and Twitter aren’t shutting down quickly enough: namely, posts by Anjem Choudary, a “hate preacher” who was convicted of supporting the Islamic State.
Richard Walton, the former head of Scotland Yard’s counter terrorism command, today warns that existing British laws would not prevent preachers who followed Choudary’s example and acting as “radicalisers”.
Obviously, the answer is MORE LAWS. That should fix it. That and blaming tech companies for third-party content, something they already police about as well as they can, considering the number of users on their respective platforms. It’s always handy to have a scapegoat to beat like the dead horse these arguments are, especially when the scapegoat can mixed-metaphorically be portrayed as fat cats electro-fiddling while social media burns.