In recent weeks, tech executives from Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and other companies met with members of President Obama's administration to discuss methods to combat terrorism online. While the closed-door summits have reportedly shown that technology leaders "appeared to be open to helping" Obama's government fend off terrorist groups like ISIS, the conversations have remained largely private.
One executive, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who was present at the meetings appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday to highlight one way that Facebook could combat terrorists. Referring to a recent "like attack" on a neo-Nazi party Facebook page, Sandberg believes positive messages on terrorist pages could help counter their views. "What was a page filled with hatred and intolerance was then tolerance and messages of hope," said Sandberg, reports The Guardian.
This approach leaves it up to Facebook users to fight terrorism
The idea of overwhelming terrorist pages with positive views and likes is not one that can be quickly discredited, but it's not clear whether Facebook has any data to show it works regularly. This approach also leaves it up to regular Facebook users to address terrorism pages, rather than the company itself.
Sandberg reportedly demonstrated Facebook's emergency suicide prevention tool at the recent Obama administration meeting. It's a tool that lets users flag friends who have posted suicidal thoughts, and Obama's team reportedly "wondered if such a system could be used to flag terrorist content or detect a user who appears to be radicalizing." It's not known whether Facebook is agreeable to the idea of flagging terrorist content, but Sandberg's comments this week show that the social network still has alternative ideas to combating such content.
Facebook isn't alone in its different approach. Jared Cohen, Alphabet's director of Google Ideas, thinks that the industry should work to force ISIS off the web. In a separate talk in London yesterday, Cohen suggested shutting down Twitter accounts associated with ISIS, and that "success looks like Isis being contained to the dark web." Cohen has shared his thoughts extensively before, but none of the big technology companies have publicly committed to any direct action.
Cohen's and Facebook's approaches also bring up the question of whether driving terrorists from social networks and the internet in general will do more harm than good. At least none of the tech companies are phoning up Bill Gates to "close up" the internet, though.