Google, Facebook, Twitter front Parliamentary inquiry into extremism

Twitter has revealed almost half of all extremists who post on its platform have advocated for violence against civilians.

Speaking before Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, Twitter head of public policy Kathleen Reen shared the shocking statistic but said completely wiping out ideological discussion from the platform would only add further tension.

It comes a day after Australia’s top intelligence agency, ASIO, warned the nation would likely see an ideologically or religiously motivated terrorist attack within 12 months.

The inquiry heard Sunni-based violent extremism was a major concern, but white nationalist, racist, misogynistic violence was proving to be a fast-growing threat.

“If you ban all discussion about it, you may find yourself effectively chasing it off our platforms where the companies are working to address these issues, and pushing it out into other platforms,” Ms Reen said.

“One of the things that’s really important in order to really deradicalise groups is to make sure that there’s awareness, discussion, interrogation and debate about what the problems actually are.

“Stopping the conversation entirely won’t address the problem in our view – It‘ll make it worse.”

The security inquiry marks two years since the Christchurch terrorist attack, where an Australian man shot and killed 51 people at two mosques, live streaming the killings in real time on Facebook where he also posted links to his white supremacist manifesto.

It later surfaced the man had been radicalised by YouTube, leading to discussion about the role of online hate in the radicalisation of individuals.

During the inquiry on Friday, Labor Senator Kristina Keneally pointed out the manifesto was easily found through a quick Google search, but would likely be found through other social media platforms.

But Ms Reen said as the larger platforms moved to address the issue successfully, there were smaller websites that still hosted extreme views.

“There are more than 300 platforms that people could easily use in Australia today to share information or to share ideas or to have conversations,” Mr Keen said.

“And I think that’s the concern for us. We remain very vulnerable to the ecosystem.”

The inquiry heard from Google, Facebook and Twitter, who detailed their responses to the increasing national security threat.

All representatives from the social media platforms said they would like to see stronger laws in place to curtail the use of hate speech on their platforms, and shared concerns about smaller websites becoming host to extremism.

Facebook’s counter-terrorism expert Brian Fishman said curtailing the issue was not just a matter for social media companies, but for government to enact laws and address the further cultural issues associated with terrorism.

“I think once of the things you see is the dynamic in which people who are extremists are seeking out community that will support whatever despicable viewpoint they hold and build some sort of network around that,” Mr Fishman said.

“So I think that’s something that we all have to be very cognisant of.

“It’s less a matter for social media I think, and sort of (about) the broader connectivity and global sense. And I do think that there’s a role for government to help with some of these kinds of programs.”

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