Tech Against Terrorism held its next workshop in Dublin on Thursday 7 September 2017. The workshop was hosted at Dublin City University in partnership with VOX-Pol. Attendees included representatives of Stripe, Tech Innovate, Flashpoint-Intel, VOX-Pol, I-Trust-Ethics, University College Dublin, and Dublin City University

On 7 September 2017, Tech Against Terrorism held a workshop in partnership with VOX-Pol, namely VOX-Pol Network of Excellence – an EU-funded academic network focused on researching violent online political extremism. The workshop attendees reflected this convergence of industry and academia, with representatives from leading academic research centres based in Dublin and members of the growing tech hub in the Irish capital. This mix of attendees led to interesting debates on how research on terrorism and violent extremism could drive solutions that help minimize the terrorist exploitation of technology.

The main takeaway that attendees agreed upon from the section on Terms of Service (ToS) was that companies should prioritise including ‘illegal activity’ within their regulations as it “encompasses everything”, followed by ‘violent content’, as it is important to reflect the need to remove violent extremist and terrorist content online. It was also agreed that vague terminology used in ToS is often problematic, especially when the language used is “too grey” or lacks specific detail. Of those discussed, the ToS of YouTube were highlighted as the most promising both for including the greatest amount of detail, and for actually referencing ‘terrorism’: “the key to a good Terms of Service is the language: how do you define it?”. As there is no globally recognised definition of ‘terrorism’ or ‘violent extremism’, it was agreed that companies should be encouraged to include their own definitions of such key terms in their ToS.

The content takedown session focussed on three main areas. Discussed first were human rights concerns attributed to content takedown, including interference with free speech and expression, online surveillance, and the problems that the lack of definitions of terminology create. The discussion then turned to reviewing the difficulties facing companies and the ‘grey areas’ of content takedown. It emerged that companies can sometimes be bound by their own ToS – that content can in some instances remain on platforms if enough context is given even if it is endorsing harmful content. Finally, the ‘best content takedown practises’ of our four main partners were discussed, highlighting the different approaches that these companies take. Attendees emphasised the ethical issues that can arise from these practises, voicing concerns about the ‘unknown consequences’ that the removal of content can produce. Evidence was also cited that content takedown procedures can sometimes strengthen the voices and messages of organisations that these practises seek to weaken. However, while it is true that content removal could potentially empower the narratives of certain groups, it was concluded that we have now reached a point where the benefits of content takedown vastly outweigh the potential negative effects.

In the final transparency section, the debate focussed on how to increase transparency on understanding which country-specific legislation a company is basing its ToS, and how this then decides the extent to which companies then choose to pass on information to law enforcement.

Attendees also discussed how the contract signed between user and company was superseded by any state legislation, and how this may affect a company’s ability to protect their users’ privacy. When shown examples of transparency reports from big tech companies, there was general consensus that the data presented was insufficient to really understand the fuller picture. Attendees agreed that there should be more information on which agency per country was approaching the companies for information and in the case of the US when there a six-month ban on reporting data requests, this should be reflected in their transparency reports.

We thank VOX-Pol for partnering with us on this event, and all participants for their involvement in the excellent debates and insights at Dublin. For information on future events, please sign up to our newsletter or consult our website!