The War On Terror™ continues apace, with dedicated agencies hunting all threats both foreign and domestic. The Wall Street Journal has a new look inside one unlikely group: Facebook.
The social network has come under fire before for failing to censor terrorist material or hate speech on its network, especially in the wake of the San Bernadino shootings. The suspects were variously accused of promoting ISIS on the network, which heightened long-standing worries about how ISIS uses Facebook to recruit members.
In response to public concern and rumors of government intervention, social networks have been taking a much more public stand against terrorism. Twitter recently trumpeted that it has shut down 125,000 terrorist-related accounts since last May.
Now Facebook has allowed the Wall Street Journal access to its much more hardline anti-terrorism proceedings. (Remember: this is from a country that used to fight extremism with “like attacks”.)
Facebook’s stance hasn’t changed on a much more fundamental basis: there’s no new “Report ISIS” button on posts; rather, it’s a shift in the network’s balance between free speech and curbing extremism. Says Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management: “If it’s the leader of Boko Haram and he wants to post pictures of his two-year-old and some kittens, that would not be allowed.”
According to the Journal’s report, Facebook’s approach is now much more proactive:
The social network says it uses profiles it deems supportive of terrorism as a jumping-off point to identify and potentially delete associated accounts that also may post material that supports terrorism.
Sweeps are carried out by a “multilingual team”, based on pages liked or events attended, in addition to things directly posted by users.
It’s a much more proactive approach than Facebook has ever taken before, but it also puts Facebook dangerously into the territory of censoring its users. The rhetoric has changed; Facebook isn’t claiming to be the same defender of free speech and privacy it was after the Snowden leaks, but is instead voluntarily censoring its users. When your only accountability comes from profile pieces from chosen journalists, maybe that’s not such a wonderful thing.