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France wants Facebook and Twitter to launch an 'offensive' against ISIS propaganda

Prime Minister Manuel Valls lays out government's online strategy during meeting with web giants

Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

The French government is once again calling on major web companies to help combat jihadist propaganda online, following a string of deadly attacks last month that left 129 dead and more than 300 injured. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Axelle Lemaire, deputy minister for digital affairs, met with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and Microsoft today to discuss plans to counter extremist propaganda and expand safety tools in the event of a future attack. A follow-up meeting will be held at the end of January.

According to a press release from the prime minister, the government and the five companies agreed to define and establish "an offensive strategy of counter-discourse that will specifically target the online activities" of ISIS. Details of the strategy were not disclosed.

The propaganda war wages on

France has been increasingly concerned about ISIS online propaganda as the terrorist group continues to recruit French nationals. After the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January, the government launched a "Stop Jihadism" campaign aimed at debunking ISIS's propaganda, with President François Hollande urging web companies to be held accountable for extremist content published on their platforms. The US State Department released a similar anti-ISIS propaganda video in September.

During Thursday's meeting, Valls and Lemaire thanked the web companies for quickly implementing alerts and features such as Facebook's Safety Check, which allowed "millions" of users to check-in as "safe" during the night of the attacks. The prime minister's office added that all the companies complied with government orders within 90 minutes, though it did not elaborate on the nature of those demands. Valls wants to "sustain and supplement" similar features going forward, in the hope of reaching even more people during future attacks. The government also asked the companies to develop tools to engage civil society in the battle against extremist propaganda, without detailing what those tools might look like.

Today's meeting comes weeks after the French parliament overwhelmingly approved a measure to extend the country's current state of emergency to three months. The state of emergency makes it easier for authorities to conduct warrantless searches, place suspects under house arrest, and seize data from smartphones or computers, while banning public demonstrations and protests. Lawmakers also passed an amendment that makes it easier for the government to shut down any websites or social media accounts that "encourage" terrorism, raising concerns among civil rights groups.

On Thursday, the AFP news agency reported that lawmakers will propose a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to extend the state of emergency indefinitely. A framework will be presented to ministers on December 23rd.