On 20 September 2017, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom co-hosted a high-level United Nations meeting on Preventing terrorist use of the Internet. President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, Prime Minister Theresa May of the UK, and Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Google Kent Walker opened the meeting, which was held on the margins of the 72nd UN General Assembly. Linked to efforts initiated by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) with the industry to prevent and counter terrorism online, this was the first time that world leaders and technology executives at this level addressed the United Nations on the issue.
The high-level meeting sought to encourage governments and civil society groups to engage with the Global Internet Forum for Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), which Mr. Walker represented on the panel of speakers. When GIFCT was launched by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube on 26 June 2017, the then-Executive Director of CTED welcomed the initiative as elevating “our existing private-public partnership with these and other companies.” The high-level meeting recognized GIFCT as a global focal point in the digital battlespace against terrorists and commended its work in shaping future action needed to address this issue.
UK Prime Minister May commended the attendance at the event as evidence of the commitment held by governments, companies, and civil society in collaborating to protect citizens against the use of the Internet by terrorists to spread their ideology. Many of the speakers reiterated the importance of a global response to protect citizens from incitement through awareness and continued efforts in countering narratives.
According to Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management and the Head of Counter-terrorism at Facebook, GIFCT focuses participating companies’ efforts in a number of areas: Improving the means for detecting terrorist content, including through technical solutions like she Shared Industry Hash Database; commissioning research in this area; and sharing knowledge with counter-terrorism experts. “And through a joint partnership [with UN CTED and the ICT4Peace Initiative “Tech against terrorism”], we’ll work with smaller companies on all of the above.”
Ms. Bickert also emphasized that companies like Facebook and Google recognize the importance in helping people challenge extremist narratives in addition to removing content. The United States Department of Homeland Security representative Claire Grady concluded that “we cannot surrender the digital battlespace to violent extremists.”
The full webcast (in English) of the meeting can be found here.
The joint declaration by the three Heads of State/Government (in French) is available here.