Tech Giants Will Brief Lawmakers on the Spread of Terrorist Content Online

People mourn at a makeshift memorial site near the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19.

People mourn at a makeshift memorial site near the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19. Vincent Thian/AP

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Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft will be asked about how the New Zealand shooter’s video spread so quickly.

After a violent video of the New Zealand terrorist attack went viral last week, tech companies have indicated they will participate in a closed-door briefing with the House Committee on Homeland Security regarding the spread of terrorist content online, a committee staffer told Nextgov.  

The meeting, set for next week, was requested by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who penned a letter to the CEOs of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft Monday, amid growing scrutiny that the violent video could not be contained on multiple platforms.

“I was deeply concerned to learn that one of the shooters live-streamed his terror attack on Facebook, and the video was subsequently reuploaded on Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms. The video was widely available on your platforms well after the attack, despite calls from New Zealand authorities to take these videos down,” Thompson wrote. “You can do better.”

The chairman wants to know how the companies responded to the rapid dissemination and ensuing reuploads of a live stream video posted by a white nationalist as he opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 and wounding 50 more. Thompson also wants answers on how the tech titans will prevent similar incidents from happening again going forward.

Thompson recognized the companies’ efforts to remove terrorism-related content in the past and highlighted their joint formation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism in June 2017. But he noted that the companies have largely left the public in the dark regarding metrics associated with far-right violent extremists and others.

Thompson also wrote it’s critical for online platforms to prioritize removing the violent content because studies have shown that “mass killings inspire copycats.”

“Your companies must prioritize responding to these toxic and violent ideologies with resources and attention,” Thompson said. “If you are unwilling to do so, Congress must consider policies to ensure that terrorist content is not distributed on your platforms—including by studying the examples being set by other countries.”

The briefing will take place on March 27. Names of attendees are not yet confirmed.

In New Zealand, people who share the video of the attack are now subject to arrest.

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