Software unveiled to tackle online extremism, violence

A software tool unveiled Friday aims to help online firms quickly find and eliminate extremist content used to spread and incite violence and attacks. The Counter Extremism Project, a nongovernment group based in Washington, proposed its software be used in a system similar to one used to prevent the spread on online child pornography. The software was developed by Dartmouth University computer scientist Hany Farid, who also worked on the PhotoDNA system now widely used by Internet companies to stop the spread of content showing sexual exploitation or pornography involving children. But social media firms have yet to commit to using the tool for extremist content, and some are skeptical about it, according to an industry source.

We think this is the technological solution to combat online extremism.

Mark Wallace, chief executive of the organization that includes former diplomats and public officials from the United States and other countries

The announcement comes amid growing concerns about radical jihadists using social networks to diffuse violent and gruesome content and recruit people for attacks. The group proposed the creation of an independent “National Office for Reporting Extremism” that would operate in a similar fashion to the child pornography center — identifying and flagging certain content to enable online firms to automatically remove it. Social networks have long stressed they will help legitimate investigations of crimes and attacks, but have resisted efforts to police or censor the vast amounts content flowing through them. But governments in the United States, France and elsewhere have been pressing online firms to do more to curb extremist content.

Child pornography is very different from extremist content. Participants were understandably concerned about which governments would be able to impose their definition of terrorist. Saudi Arabia? Russia? China?

A tech industry representative, who asked not to be identified, told AFP social media firms had concerns, including about privacy and the effectiveness of the tool