Extremists Are Being Driven Towards Smaller Social Media Platforms

Facebook, Google and Twitter have been making headlines again and again this year over their attempts, failures and promises to respond to the spread of extremist ideas on their platforms. They've brought in new ideas, policies, software upgrades and even staff departments to deal with the issue and while it certainly hasn't gone away, some marginal progress has been made.

The issue is that extremism and hate speech doesn't die off, it just changes shape, and when you plug one hole it finds another. At a recent conference in London, the founder and sole operator of image sharing site Justpasteit.com detailed his struggles with an unexpected and intolerable influx of terrorist activity.

When this kind of thing happens on large scale platforms, there are a myriad of countermeasures in place to deal with it, from reporting to blocking to account removal. When it's just one guy sat in his home office fielding complaints in languages that he doesn't speak, it's not quite so straightforward. A healthy intake of active users doesn't guarantee a sophisticated system, and in many cases sites get popular long before they get any kind of real funding, office space or full-time personnel. Clearly, terrorist groups are starting to twig to that.

Another issue that Mariusz Żurawek (Just Paste It's founder) raised was that if he's asked to get law enforcement involved, he has little way of knowing, nation to nation, if he's helping or hindering the situation by doing so. Żurawek is running a website, he is not an international diplomat, but those are the kind of pressures that are being placed on him and other small time digital platform owners. It's a deeply unpleasant and unfair situation.

So what's the solution? Allow extremists to operate on larger platforms where they can be monitored? Obviously not, but really this issue has no immediately obvious solution, the internet cannot be policed, and sites with less funding will always suffer from inferior security.

The image-hashing database developed jointly by Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google may provide an answer, though. It's a sophisticated system with a proven record of identifying extremist content. If that technology were open-sourced and offered to smaller sites, as well as a system of legal aid and general advice on how to deal with issues like this, this spread of hate onto sites that can't manage it could well be contained. 

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