Internet firms take down 300,000 items thanks to specialist UK anti-terror unit

Policing is celebrating a “success story” due to the latest efforts by the social media industry in reigning back terror’s propaganda machine.

Nov 21, 2017

Policing is celebrating a “success story” due to the latest efforts by the social media industry in reigning back terror’s propaganda machine. More than 300,000 online videos, web pages and posts have been taken down after they were flagged up to internet companies by a specialist national anti-terror police unit. New figures obtained by a Freedom of Information (FoI) request reveal the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) reached the milestone in recent weeks. However, the rate of removals prompted by its work has slowed as firms step up their own efforts. The CTIRU – formed as the first unit of its kind by the Association of Chief Police Officers – works with more than 300 organisations to remove content including propaganda and recruitment videos, images of executions and speeches calling for racial or religious violence. Statistics released following the FoI show that, as of last month, 299,121 pieces of material had been cleared at the instigation of the unit since its 2010 launch. Officers confirmed that the number of removals has since passed the 300,000 mark. What started with 1,527 pieces taken down in the whole of years 2010 and 2011, rose to 17,541 by 2013 with a tenfold increase to 121,151 in 2016. From the start of January to the end of August this year, 43,151 pieces of content were removed at the request of the CTIRU. This was down by nearly half on the tally of 83,784 recorded in the equivalent period of 2016. Detective Chief Superintendent Clarke Jarrett, of the Metropolitan Police Service’s counter-terrorism command, said: “The 300,000 milestone is positive. “It’s 300,000 pieces of material not there to radicalise or harm people. That 300,000 isn’t a representation of what’s out there. There’s still plenty of content out there.” He acknowledged that removals instigated by the CTIRU have slowed. “I think that’s a success story because we’ve now got the industry into a place where they are doing more,” he said. “They are removing more themselves which means our removals are less, but I think that’s a really positive position. “Although we talk about 300,000, the global total is probably much more than it’s ever been because the big companies are really working much harder to remove stuff.” Officers working on the unit trawl the web looking for material as well as investigating referrals from the public. The bulk of the unit’s activity deals with Islamist-related content, but it is referring more far-right material. Concerns over online material have intensified after the UK was hit by five attacks this year. Det Chief Supt Jarrett said: “We are seeing more investigations and more attack planning than ever.” In recent months, a number of companies have detailed the steps they are taking to clamp down on terrorist content. From January to June, Twitter removed just under 300,000 accounts for terror-related violations. The microblogging site highlighted how the bulk of suspensions are the result of its internal efforts using “proprietary tools” – with less than one per cent stemming from government requests. YouTube has introduced “machine learning” to help identify extremist and terror-related material, with more than 80 per cent of videos taken down now removed from the site before they are flagged by a person. Facebook has revealed it is using artificial intelligence to keep terrorist content off the site. Firms have come under sustained pressure over the issue. Government and law enforcement agencies have told technology companies they have an “ethical responsibility” to help confront the unprecedented threat, while Britain and France are exploring plans that could see platforms face fines if their efforts are not up to scratch. Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “We are clear that the internet cannot be used as a safe space for terrorists or those that mean us harm. “These new figures show what can be achieved when internet companies, police and government work together. But clearly there is still a lot o

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