YouTube pledges to improve counter-terrorism measures

Video channel will disable comments on objectionable videos

YouTube has announced a spread of anti-extremist messages designed to combat the spread of terrorist material on its platform.

Google's general counsel and senior vice-president, Kent Walker, penned a blog post reiterating the company's commitment to fighting online extremism, stating that "there should be no place for terrorist content on our services".

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"While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now," he added.

Walker revealed that the company will be increasing its counter-extremism investments in four key areas: firstly, it will put more time and effort into improving the machine learning algorithms that YouTube uses to detect terrorist videos. Of particular concern is making sure that automated systems can distinguish the contextual difference between news reporting and terrorist propaganda.

YouTube has also committed to taking a more active role in counter-radicalisation campaigns. This includes partnering with other major tech firms to work together on tackling terror, as well as using targeted advertising to steer potential ISIS recruits towards de-radicalising content.

Google will also increase the number of NGOs that participate in its 'Trusted Flagger' programme by almost 80%, in addition to supporting them with financial grants. These expert moderators are capable of making nuanced decisions about the validity of questionable videos, and Google claims that they are right more than 90% of the time.

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One of the most significant changes, however, is that the company will crack down on videos that occupy the murky grey areas of YouTube - content that doesn't outright violate the company's rules, but that does contain objectionable material such as inflammatory supremacist content.

These videos will be prefaced by a warning, and will have comments, recommendations, user endorsement and monetisation blocked, which Google says will make them less engaging and harder to find. "We think this strikes the right balance between free expression and access to information without promoting extremely offensive viewpoints," Walker said.

The announcement comes amid growing calls for social networks and tech firms to take a more proactive role in moderating their platforms, as a growing amount of hateful, violent and extremist content is highlighted by critics. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have found themselves in hot water on multiple occasions. Facebook accidentally revealed the identities of moderators to potential terrorists, it emerged last week.

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"Collectively, these changes will make a difference," Walker wrote. "And we will keep working on the problem until we get the balance right. Extremists and terrorists seek to attack and erode not just our security, but also our values; the very things that make our societies open and free. We must not let them."

His post comes after UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French president Emmanuel Macron agreed to fight radical content together, proposing to legislate against it by potentially introducing fines for tech firms that don't police their platforms effectively.

The EU criticised tech firms for missing agreed deadlines to tackle hate speech online last December.

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