Countries pressure internet giants to control extremist materials

WASHINGTON — How to handle content posted by extremists. It’s the topic of a series of hearings that Congress will host with Facebook, Twitter and Google as European leaders pressure the internet giants to do a better job of controlling dangerous and questionable material.

Extremist material attracts more internet clicks in Britain than any other European country. In fact, the United Kingdom has the fifth largest audience in the world for jihadist propaganda behind Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

“People are accessing it on-line and very quickly, often moving to violence.”

Terrorism expert Martyn Frampton said extremists are winning what he calls “the new netwar.” His research shows ISIS produces about 100 pieces of new content weekly, including graphic execution videos and bomb-making instructions.

“If they can have this content available, even for, kind of, 24 hours – in a sense, the damage is done,” Frampton told CBS News.

At the United Nations last month, British Prime Minister Theresa may challenged social media companies to take down terrorist material within two hours.

“This is a major step in reclaiming the internet from those who would use it to do us harm.”

Germany has already flagged websites that allow the posting of hate speech, passing a law with fines of nearly $60 million if they don’t remove the content within 24 hours.

The European Union has also taken action in recent years, pressuring Google into removing the search results that contain objectionable or false information.

But tech companies in the United States have not faced the same kind of pressure as their European counterparts.

“The U.S. has just not been a leader in regulatory control of these media.”

But UCLA Information Studies Professor Sarah Roberts said there is new scrutiny.

“This is a critical moment.”

Congress is holding hearings on social media content after Facebook admitted it found thousands of divisive ads from Russian trolls with the goal of spreading disinformation during the election.

“I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy – that’s not what we stand for,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The company recently joined Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube to create the Global Internet Forum to Combat Terrorism. The companies are employing thousands of workers and using artificial intelligence to remove and stop extremist content.

“It’s great companies are stepping up to the plate and trying to problem solve, but it’s a question of ‘do we let the fox guard the hen house’,” said Roberts.

Washington lawmakers will be considering that questions as they decide if the United States should be following Europe’s lead of applying legislative pressure on America’s tech giants.