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Oscar Williams

News editor

Tech firms hit back after Theresa May claims they offer terrorists a safe space

Tech firms have defended their record on tackling extremist propaganda after Theresa May claimed they provide a safe space for terrorists.

Speaking on the steps of Downing Street on Sunday, the Prime Minister warned that social networks had not done enough to curb the spread of extremist content.

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed — yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide,” said Mrs May.

The comments came a day after a terror attack in London claimed the lives of seven people and injured 48.

But tech firms have hit back at Mrs May, saying that they already carry out the work that she is calling for.

Google, which owns YouTube, said it has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on fighting abuse.

A spokesperson for the Silicon Valley firm told New Statesman Tech: “We employ thousands of people and invest hundreds of millions of pounds to fight abuse on our platforms and ensure we are part of the solution to addressing these challenges.”

Facebook’s director of policy, Simon Milner, meanwhile, said the firm, which also owns WhatsApp, is using a combination of technology and human review to aggressively remove terrorist content.

“We want Facebook to be a hostile environment for terrorists,” said Mr Milner.

And Twitter’s UK head of public policy, Nick Pickles, said terrorist content has no place on its site, adding that the firm is also expanding its use of technology to remove such material.

The social network’s latest Transparency Report, which was published in March, revealed that it had removed more than 376,000 accounts for violations related to promoting terror.

In December last year, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft launched a new partnership to crack down on the sharing of extremist content.

It includes a shared database that lists the extremist content which each site has removed, allowing others to swiftly identify and remove the same content on their platforms.

Tech firms aren’t alone in challenging Mrs May’s statement. Professor Peter Neumann, an expert in radicalisation at King’s College London, said that blaming social media was “politically convenient but intellectually lazy”.

“Big social media platforms have cracked down on jihadist accounts, with result that most jihadists are now using end-to-end encrypted messenger platforms e.g. Telegram. This has not solved problem, just made it different,” tweeted Mr Neumann.

 

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