Silicon Valley is now an open combatant in the war against Islamic extremism.
In increasingly brash tones, tech executives are discussing publicly how their companies can help the west stop Islamic State recruiting efforts online. That shift is welcome news in Washington, London and Berlin, but it could also raise questions about American tech firms’ role in the global marketplace of ideas.
Less than two weeks ago, Silicon Valley’s leading executives joined a closed-door meeting with America’s most senior security staff and law enforcement officials to discuss how to combat Isis’s recruiting efforts online. Agents for the terrorist organization have increasingly turned to platforms such as Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube and Twitter.
She explained a recent effort by German Facebook users to “like” the Facebook page of the neo-Nazi party and then post positive messages on the page.
“What was a page filled with hatred and intolerance was then tolerance and messages of hope,” she said.
She then pivoted to Isis and added: “The best thing to speak against recruitment by Isis are the voices of people who were recruited by Isis, understand what the true experience is, have escaped and have come back to tell the truth ... Counter-speech to the speech that is perpetuating hate we think by far is the best answer.”
Speaking separately in London on the same day, Alphabet’s director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, talked about efforts to force Isis agents off the public internet.
“It could be where we can see greater short-term wins,” said Cohen, who met with Pope Francis on 15 January along with Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
US officials, lawmakers and politicians have complained that the companies aren’t doing enough to keep terrorists away from civilians online. Donald Trump famously said last month he wanted to talk to Microsoft founder Bill Gates about “closing the internet up” in some places to stop Isis.
And while tech executives privately were sympathetic, they were often nervous about confronting the issue publicly. The internet, by its nature, is open. Tech firms – rooted in America’s liberal tradition of free speech – are skittish about playing traffic cop about posted content. Sandberg’s and Cohen’s remarks Wednesday suggest those concerns have diminished.
During the national security meeting in San Jose, Silicon Valley executives in the room, including Sandberg and Apple’s Tim Cook, appeared open to the idea of helping Washington combat Isis online.
After Sandberg explained it, tech executives in the room discussed if a similar system could be developed for flagging social media users showing signs of radicalization.
This article was written by Danny Yadron in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st January 2016 01.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010