Microsoft Unveils Plan To Combat 'Terrorist Content'

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Microsoft has unveiled a two-pronged approach to fighting back against terrorists' efforts to use the Internet and social media to communicate with one another and recruit new members.

Microsoft is rising to the challenge of combating terrorists' use of the Internet to recruit new members and communicate among each other, a move that comes less than two weeks after one of its executives addressed the United Nations Security Council on the difficulties of such an undertaking.

The Redmond giant, in a May 20 blog post, outlined a two-part strategy that calls for addressing content posted by terrorists and investing in partnerships that carry a similar goal.

Microsoft plans to identify terrorist content based on the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List, which lists groups that are considered terrorist organizations.

In addressing terrorists' online content, the software giant is tweaking its Microsoft services' terms of use agreement and its notice-and-takedown process.

For its terms of use agreement, Microsoft will specifically prohibit the posting of terrorist content on the consumer services that it hosts. This would include content that shows graphic violence committed by terrorists, endorses terrorist acts or organizations, encourages violence, or seeks to entice others to join terrorists groups.

Terrorist content posted to Microsoft's hosted consumer websites will now be subject to removal, once the software giant has been notified of its existence through its online reporting tool.

Microsoft is also adding additional resources to its YouthSpark Hub, a website that has educational and economic information for youth. The site will also now include materials to help young people distinguish credible information from hate speech and misinformation to minimize the potential for them to become radicals.

But one area the Redmond giant will largely leave untouched is its Bing search service, citing a desire to maintain freedom of expression on the Internet. Users will still be able to use Bing to search for terrorist content. The only way links to such information will be removed is if local laws, such as ones in France, are violated and the content has to be taken down.

In addressing its reasoning behind its approach, Microsoft stated:

We have a responsibility to run our various Internet services so that they are a tool to empower people, not to contribute, however indirectly, to terrible acts. We also have a responsibility to run our services in a way that respects timeless values such as privacy, freedom of expression and the right to access information. We’ve therefore carefully considered how to address terrorist content that may appear on our services without sacrificing the fundamental rights we all hold dear. Although Microsoft does not run any of the leading social networks or video-sharing sites, from time to time, terrorist content may be posted to or shared on our Microsoft-hosted consumer services. In light of this, we want to be transparent about our approach to combatting terrorist content.

Microsoft will also partner with Dartmouth College professor Hany Farid to develop technology that aims to scan and accurately identify public content that features known terrorist images, video, and audio.

[Read about the tech community's reaction to Burr-Feinstein.]

It will also seek new partnerships with non-governmental organizations to display "positive messaging and alternative narratives" as public service announcements when Bing users search for terrorist materials.

Microsoft is also a founding member of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, which is comprised of representatives from government, industry, academics, and society at large.

Steven Crown, a Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel, addressed the United Nations Security Council earlier this month during its special meeting to create an international framework to combat terrorism, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

While governments and tech companies around the world have created an effective framework to fight child pornography, Crown noted the task of combating terrorism on a global scale may prove more challenging because a single definition of what comprises a terrorist group is lacking, The Journal reported.

"There is no silver bullet that will stop terrorist use of the Internet," Crown said, according to the Journal. "We know that there are tens of thousands terrorist Internet accounts that refuse to die. As one is taken down, another quickly springs up in its place."

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