Home Secretary demands ‘real action’ to remove online extremist content

The Home Secretary has put internet giants on notice the Government could introduce new laws to clamp down on extremist content online.

During a visit to Silicon Valley, Amber Rudd warned social media companies “this is just the start” as she prepared to tackle Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter over terrorists’ use of their platforms.

The Cabinet minister will attend the inaugural Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism in San Franciso later, as the Government continues to step up pressure on internet companies in the wake of a series of terror attacks in the UK.

In the wake of the atrocities, both Ms Rudd and Prime Minister Theresa May have called for an end to internet “safe spaces” in which terrorists can spread their hate.

Ms Rudd told Sky News she will urge tech companies to “work with us” to remove extremist content from the internet.

“Of course it is just one thing to talk about it, but what we want to see is real action,” she said.

“And this forum is going to be a platform for delivering just that.

“The tech companies are aligned on this, with us, in wanting to make sure their platforms are not used for terrorist activity.”

The Home Secretary added governments need to see “real results” on removing extremist content as she raised the prospect of new laws if companies did not act.

“We believe the best way to get this material removed from the internet is to let them show us they are doing it,” she said.

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“Of course we can do legislation, we may yet do legislation, but the most effective way of delivering this outcome that we all want is to have this forum which they can lead on.”

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As well as removing extremist content, Ms Rudd said she wanted to see internet companies increase efforts to ensure they don’t let terrorists use their platforms in the first place.

“We’re asking them to take action, but we will make sure that they do it,” she said.

“We are not sitting back from this, this is just the start.”

The Home Secretary is expected to call on internet companies to start “turning the tide” against extremists’ use of their platforms.

Ms Rudd will also point to a UK police unit that has taken down 280,000 pieces of terrorist content from the internet and closed millions of accounts since 2010.

The Cabinet minister is also due to raise the issue of encrypted messaging services, such as WhatsApp, during her trip.

It comes amid an ongoing row over whether police and intelligence services should be allowed to access such services in their efforts to thwart further terror attacks.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph ahead of the meeting, Ms Rudd wrote: “To be very clear – Government supports strong encryption and has no intention of banning end-to-end encryption.

“But the inability to gain access to encrypted data in specific and targeted instances… is right now severely limiting our agencies’ ability to stop terrorist attacks and bring criminals to justice.”

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In May, an influential group of MPs declared internet companies are “shamefully far” from taking sufficient action to tackle hate and dangerous content on their sites.

The House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee called for fines for social media companies failing to remove illegal content within a strict timeframe.

In June, Mrs May and French president Emmanuel Macron announced proposals for tough action against companies not stepping up efforts to combat extremism online.

The internet giants making up the forum have vowed to “continue to make our hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists”.

They promised to work together to share tech knowledge with governments, commission research into online extremism and discuss how to improve their “counterspeech” programmes to tackle radicalisation.