On January 8, the White House made a long-overdue call to Silicon Valley. The topic: to meet and collaborate on how extremist groups are using social media platforms in recruiting followers and encouraging violence. At least they’re trying to communicate, which is more than we can say for the ever-unproductive U.S. Congress. And as I wrote previously, Congress needs to make a move and coordinate with the private sphere.
Of course, the obligation to do something is not exclusively inside the Beltway. Much of the important leg work in addressing terrorist use of social media will come from the very companies that created those social platforms.
Since Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed that U.S. government agencies enjoyed a “back door” into many of these platforms, Silicon Valley and the District have had a less-than-amiable relationship. Fortunately, Friday’s meeting included many of the most integral stakeholders and showed some initiative from the Obama Administration to find a solution—or least, start to find a solution. Participants included: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, DNI James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, as well as reps from Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube , LinkedIn, and more. That’s quite a lot of public and private power in one spot.
Several news outlets leaked the meeting itinerary. Perhaps most interesting are the “Core Discussion Areas.” As reported:
- How can we make it harder for terrorists to leverage the Internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence?
- How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL?
- In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?
- How can we make it harder for terrorists to use the Internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks?
Though next steps from Friday’s meetings are unclear (and perhaps they should remain that way lest the bad guys adapt before we even move), this gathering conveys that the White House is taking some fledgling steps towards some kind of solutions. Currently, companies like Facebook and others have a policy to take down illegal postings, but tech companies are also wary of jeopardizing the 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech. Both valid points.
That being said, with more public pressure on the President and Congress to take action against ISIS, I would say there is going to be a hard push for these tech companies to coordinate efforts. As the Obama Administration explores new solutions, Silicon Valley might do well to present some solutions of their own—or they might end up forfeiting some decision-making power in the policy-making process.
The last thing we need is Silicon Valley’s government grudge to curtail efforts against ISIS. The more solutions we see from the private sector, the more streamlined the Administration’s efforts may be. And at long last, all the talk of “taking the fight to ISIS” might actually have some real teeth. Time will tell.