Microsoft, other tech industry leaders team up with an international coalition of governments for a multi-stakeholder solution

Adapted from comments made today.

On March 15, 2019 the world witnessed a terrorist use the internet as a stage to commit mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand. Even in a time that has seen far too many acts of violence in far too many places, these attacks shook the world. We saw online digital services weaponized to multiply the horror of the attacks across the internet. As an industry, we concluded that if we didn’t take action, we ran not just the risk of others using the internet to spread violence, but creating an incentive for others to engage in acts of violence like this in the first place.

Today, just over six months after the Christchurch attack, members of the tech sector, governments and civil society came together at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the progress we collectively have made since those attacks to prevent technology from being used to promote terrorism and violent extremism online. The people of the world might ask if our efforts have helped make the world safer. While we must acknowledge the formidable challenges that we face, I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

Since that awful day in Christchurch, we’ve taken new steps across our industry to improve and create tools and frameworks to prepare, alert, act and report on violent incidents when they happen. One of the most important things we announced today was a new Crisis Incident Protocol, which creates the ability for us not just as an industry but in collaboration with governments, to prepare for these kinds of attacks, to alert each other when they take place, to act quickly to remove violent content and interrupt live streaming, and report to the public with the transparency that the world requires.

Is the work complete? As Microsoft looks forward to succeeding Facebook as the chair of Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism on Jan. 1, 2020, we appreciate that the answer is clearly no. We have more work to do to implement and operationalize the steps we’ve already taken, to build the institutional infrastructure of GIFCT that will enable not only the tech sector to work together better, but to work together in a multi-stakeholder environment with governments and others.

And finally, we will need to do more because the forces of evil will not stand still. They never do. As they evolve, so must we. It will take people of good will among governments around the world, across the tech sector and throughout civil society, to ensure that we continue to progress, to outpace those who we oppose. On behalf of all of us who work at Microsoft, we are prepared to do our part.

You can read more about these new steps in this press release from the New Zealand and French governments. And you can read more about changes to the industry group working on these issues below.

Next steps for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism

Today, members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) are meeting with government leaders, led by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and French President Emmanuel Macron at the United Nations General Assembly to share progress on the steps taken to implement the Christchurch Call to Action. At this important convening, GIFCT is announcing it will become an independent organization led by an executive director and supported by dedicated technology, counterterrorism and operations teams. Evolving and institutionalizing GIFCT’s structure from a consortium of member companies will build on our early achievements and deepen industry collaboration with experts, partners and government stakeholders – all in an effort to thwart increasingly sophisticated efforts by terrorists and violent extremists to abuse digital platforms.

Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism logo

The new, independent GIFCT will integrate its existing work to develop technology, cultivate strong corporate policies and sponsor research with efforts to fulfill commitments in the nine-point action plan released after the Christchurch Call. More importantly, it will institutionalize the spirit of shared purpose that the Call represents. GIFCT has made significant achievements since it was founded in 2017, and worked closely with a range of governments, particularly under the auspices of the European Union Internet Forum. But the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch and the extraordinary virality of the attacker’s video online illustrated the need to do even more. We believe these next steps are best executed within an industry-led framework with deep input from both civil society and governments.

Progress on our commitments to the Christchurch Call to Action

In addition to restructuring GIFCT to carry collaboration forward, we have made significant progress on some of the Christchurch Call’s core initiatives:

  • Introduced industry’s Content Incident Protocol to guide a collaborated response amongst GIFCT members to terrorist attacks like we saw in Christchurch and combat the spread of terrorist content across the platforms.
  • Published a cross-platform, countering violent extremism toolkit, developed with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, to help civil society organizations build online campaigns that challenge extremist ideologies, while prioritizing safety.
  • Released algorithms for our hashing technology to help additional companies build their capacity to use and contribute to the hash sharing consortium.
  • Published the first GIFCT Transparency Report to shine a light on our efforts as an industry.

Adopting a new vision for an independent institution

As an independent organization, GIFCT will adopt a new mission statement: “Prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting digital platforms” to guide its work across four foundational goals:

  1. Empower a broad range of technology companies, independently and collectively, with processes and tools to prevent and respond to abuse of their platforms by terrorists and violent extremists.
  2. Enable multi-stakeholder engagement around terrorist and violent extremist misuse of the internet and encourage stakeholders to meet key commitments consistent with the GIFCT mission.
  3. Promote civil dialogue online and empower efforts to direct positive alternatives to the messages of terrorists and violent extremists.
  4. Advance broad understanding of terrorist and violent extremist operations and their evolution, including the intersection of online and offline activities.

GIFCT was formally established by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube with the objective of disrupting terrorist abuse on their respective platforms. Since then, the consortium has grown with new global technology companies joining GIFCT, and now Amazon, LinkedIn and WhatsApp are joining. An even broader group collaborates closely on critical initiatives focused on tech innovation, knowledge-sharing and research. Most recently, we reached our 2019 goal of collectively contributing more than 200,000 hashes, or unique digital fingerprints, of known terrorist content into our shared database, enabling each of us to quickly identify and take action on potential terrorist content on our respective platforms.

Establishing the structure for an independent institution

The updated GIFCT will be led by an independent executive director, who will be responsible for leading and coordinating all operations, including core management, program implementation and fundraising, and engagement with the operational board and advisory committee.

GIFCT’s efforts will be organized into three key pillars of work:

  1. “Prevent” to equip digital platforms and civil society groups with awareness, knowledge and tools, including technology, to develop sustainable programs in their core business operations to disrupt terrorist and violent extremist activity online.
  2. “Respond” will develop tools and capacity, including via regular multi-stakeholder exercises, for platforms to cooperate with one another and with other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of a terrorist or violent extremist attack.
  3. “Learn” will empower researchers to study terrorism and counterterrorism, including creating and evaluating best practices for multi-stakeholder cooperation and preventing abuse of digital platforms.

GIFCT will establish working groups in order to engage stakeholders from government and civil society focused on specific projects and advise GIFCT’s efforts. These working groups will have the ability to coordinate multi-stakeholder funding for specific programmatic efforts supported by GIFCT. Initial working groups are expected to address topics such as positive interventions with respect to radicalization, algorithmic outcomes, improving the multi-stakeholder Crisis Response Protocol and legal challenges to data sharing.

GIFCT governance will reside with the industry-led operating board, which will work closely with a multi-stakeholder Independent Advisory Committee, and a broad multi-stakeholder forum. The Independent Advisory Committee will be chaired by a non-governmental representative, and include members from civil society, government and inter-governmental entities. So far, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the European Commission have signed on to the advisory committee and we look forward to sharing additional members, including advocacy groups, human rights specialists, foundations, researchers and technical experts soon. The multi-stakeholder forum is designed as a broader community of dedicated parties interested in regular updates from the GIFCT and engaging in events designed to funnel broad feedback to the industry operating board and executive director.  Here is more information about the new structure.

Since its founding in 2017, GIFCT has focused its efforts on innovative and emerging technology solutions, knowledge sharing and supporting research into terrorists’ use of digital platforms. We are grateful for the support of, and collaboration with, our member companies, governments and civil society organizations that share our commitment to prevent and disrupt terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting technology. Most recently, we conducted 11 separate workshops in partnership with our UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate- backed partner Tech Against Terrorism to facilitate outreach, knowledge sharing, and technology capacity building with smaller tech platforms, government and nongovernmental organizations and academic experts. We also invested in the Global Research Network on Terrorism and Technology (GRNTT) to develop research and policy recommendations designed to prevent terrorist exploitation of technology. But there’s more to do. We are confident that this new chapter will provide greater resources and capacity for our collective long-term success and we look forward to sharing further progress.

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