This week, Facebook and YouTube announced new data on removal of terrorist content on their platforms. Facebook also released its internal document clarifying what content stays online and what is deleted. YouTube, under Google’s broader efforts, also stated that it is getting “faster” at takedowns with an increased number of human reviewers vetting questionable content. Some of those in counterterrorism policy circles and Capitol Hill are fervent advocates of technology behemoths stepping up enforcement of their terms of service and will likely praise these new releases. Ultimately, however, the responses detailed by Facebook and YouTube are another iteration of a decade-long strategy, as the government continues to delegate online counter-terrorism responsibilities to private industry.
As a former congressional staffer, a member of the intelligence policy community, and now an academic researcher, my career has traced the growth of terrorist use of the internet. During my time as a staffer, I wrote letters on behalf of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs calling for technology companies to remove terrorist videos from their servers, and I examined how terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab have adeptly used social media to radicalize and recruit Americans to their cause. As a researcher, I’ve studied the online environment as well—but I’ve become concerned that this singular focus on the internet ignores the importance of peer-to-peer terrorist recruitment.
Over the past decade, foreign terrorists command and capability in the digital sphere has drastically evolved. But our responses to this have not adapted with the same efficiency.