In a brazen announcement to usher in the new year, the UK government has made it clear that Silicon Valley’s tech giants must improve their attitude towards tackling extremism on their platforms – or else face the consequences.
We’re mere days into 2018, and it’s already proving to be an eventful year for the government. Whilst the department for transport and the treasury tackle a displeased public over train fare hikes and a delay to the eagerly-anticipated ‘millennial railcard’, the security minister has entered the year waging war on the likes of Google and Facebook.
Revealing his plans on the last day of 2017, Ben Wallace made it clear that the government has every intention of curbing extremism by pursuing the social media services upon which extremist organisation build a platform to recruit, communicate and promote their ideals. As many will agree, it’s a welcome demonstration of the government standing up to the tech industry, but why has it come about now?
Out of the Shadows
In recent years – especially with the advent of encrypted messaging for all – extremists have moved away from the cloak and dagger surroundings of the dark web. Now, they blend in on WhatsApp, using encrypted features to communicate with one another, whilst wildly popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook play host to their recruitment campaigns.
WhatsApp, in particular, has already come under fire for its encrypted service, with the app facing criticism over the role it played in organising last year’s Westminster attack. The firm’s end-to-end encryption was arguably the first of its kind amongst mainstream apps, and ensures even the brains behind the technology can’t see messages sent between users, creating a blindspot for individuals to hide in plain sight.
Whilst the brazen attitude of extremists on platforms where impressionable young people and digital natives all flock is reason enough to pursue Silicon Valley’s co-operation, Wallace has found additional motivation, and as is often the case, it involves finances.
Profiting from Extremism?
“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers. They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.”
Ben Wallace, Security Minister
Via Business Insider
Sitting at the centre of extremist activity, Wallace argues, are the tech companies profiteering from their continued use. Twitter, for example, continues to host ISIS-linked accounts, much to the chagrin of anti-terror groups such as Anonymous, whilst Facebook has been accused on more than one occasion of dragging its feet when asked to take down extreme content.
It’s here that Wallace finds fault. By drawing out the process, companies are allowing extremists the time to radicalise individual users. The undoing of this damage is already a costly affair, but then factor in the additional hours of monitoring and surveillance which security agencies are finding themselves obliged to conduct, and the price quickly soars into hundreds of millions.
Instead of allowing this to continue, Wallace has proposed the likes of taxation, which could be used to fund these operations in the likelihood that the tech giants don’t comply. If we’ve learned anything about how the world works in the Valley, it’s that money talks – and threats of financial penalties have already been levelled at the likes of Google and Facebook elsewhere in order to encourage co-operation.
In Germany, 2018 started with a different kind of bang: the implementation of a new law which would see social media sites penalised for not tackling hate speech on their platforms at a faster pace.
The new legislation, NetzDG (Network Enforcement Act), came into play as Germany’s strict laws on the likes of Neo-nazism and Holocaust denial were increasingly being flouted in online spaces. The German government and law enforcement agencies found, however, that the platforms weren’t responding to requests to have such content removed in a timely manner, undermining the country’s own laws.
Similarly to Wallace’s plans, the German government have taken the financial route to ensure compliance, with companies now legally facing fines reaching €50million – an act which has seemingly spurred even Google into action.
The Road to a Better Internet
Upon first reading of the headlines around Wallace’s plans, one could be forgiven for showing concern that civil liberties were at risk. Why, you might argue, should everybody suffer for the activity of a few? Thankfully, the proposed taxation and its use to fund more security is a much fairer and more sensible approach.
Whether or not this will have a profound effect on curbing extremism, it’s too early to say. After all, the success of the minister’s plans rely on Silicon Valley’s reaction and compliance, though even that does little to prevent extremists retreating back into the Dark Web.
What we can take away from this is that Silicon Valley’s indifference to what happens on their platforms is finally being challenged – and if other countries follow the UK and Germany’s leads, then it’s only a matter of time until a more ethical internet can take shape, without the dramatics of a 1984-esque world.
From the whole team at Kaleida, we’d like to wish you a happy new year – we hope that you’ll enjoy a successful 2018.
If you’d like to find out more about implementing a bespoke software solution over the next twelve months, please feel free to explore our website, or get in touch with us directly – our team are always happy to answer any questions.