The White House announces tech companies’ efforts to fight violent extremism

The White House announced Thursday that major companies would roll out a series of new policies and tools to combat the spread of extremism on their websites.

Major social media services, including YouTube, Twitch, Microsoft and Facebook parent Meta, announced their new initiatives to curb the spread of hateful rhetoric in coordination with a White House gathering on hate-fueled violence. The announcements follow mounting pressure on the companies to address the role their services play in amplifying hate speech, particularly in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., where the shooters had histories of violent rhetoric online.

Before the massacre, the Uvalde gunman often threatened teenage girls online

YouTube will update its policies to remove videos that glorify acts intended to inspire others or raise money, even when the creators do not have links to terrorist groups. Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming service, will soon roll out new tools to help its creators improve security and limit harassment on their channels. And Microsoft will launch online safety education for students and families in its popular game Minecraft.

Political pressure has been mounting on President Biden and Vice President Harris to follow through on their campaign promises to more closely examine the link between social media and violence. Biden is also expected to repeat Thursday his calls for Congress to “fundamentally reform” Section 230, a legal shield that protects tech companies from lawsuits over the photos, videos and other content people share on their services. He is also expected to support the creation of transparency requirements that would allow researchers and the public to see under the hood of social media companies.

Biden and Harris say the tech industry “must bear responsibility” for the role their services play in fueling violent extremist ideologies, according to a website for Thursday’s summit.

Social media liability legislation is likely to be reviewed under Biden

The flurry of announcements comes as technology companies are increasingly under scrutiny for their role in spreading hate and violence. The House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol has also been examining social media companies and speaking with their current and former employees in an attempt to determine what role technology played in the attack.

However, Democrats’ ability to enact new policies that address these concerns is limited in the current Congress, where they hold a fragile majority with Harris’s 50-50 Senate vote. Republicans have various criticisms of social media companies’ content moderation practices, arguing that the companies remove too much content.

In the absence of action by Congress, lawmakers and advocates have relied on public pressure to force companies to change their policies on their own. The companies will also announce steps to expand public awareness of such ideologies and to better research extremism. YouTube will launch a campaign, initially in the US, focused on helping young people identify manipulated information online. Meta will begin a partnership with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center for Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism to study emerging trends in extremism.

Thursday’s summit builds on other recent work in the White House. In June, Harris announced a new task force that would study and develop policy recommendations to address online abuse.

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