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Battling the Dark Corners of the Web: How Google’s Altitude Empowers Small Platforms to Fight Terrorism

The internet, a vast and vibrant tapestry of information, unfortunately also harbors dark corners teeming with extremist and terrorist content. Terrorist groups have increasingly utilized social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to further their goals and spread their message due to their convenience, affordability, and vast reach. These platforms provide an opportunity for terrorist organizations to disseminate propaganda, recruit members, and gather intelligence.

Global Internet Forum fighting Terrorism online

Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) was established in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube to counter terrorist propaganda online. The consortium aims to make hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists through the use of technology, research, and counter-speech strategies.

“Our mission is to substantially disrupt terrorists’ ability to use the internet in furthering their causes, while also respecting human rights. This disruption includes addressing the promotion of terrorism, dissemination of propaganda, and the exploitation of real-world terrorist events through online platforms.” It focuses on sharing knowledge, information, and best practices, as well as conducting research and funding initiatives.

The members of GIFCT have taken significant steps to combat terrorist content on their platforms. They have developed policies and removal practices to take a hard line against such content. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google employ automated systems and machine learning to detect and remove terrorist-related content swiftly. Facebook does this primarily through the use of automated systems like photo and video matching and text-based machine learning. Once the company is aware of a piece of terror content, it also removes “83% of subsequently uploaded copies within one hour of upload”.

Google’s Altitude

For smaller online platforms, lacking the resources and expertise of tech giants, tackling this content can feel like an overwhelming battle. Enter Altitude, Google’s game-changer, giving these platforms a fighting chance against online hate and violence.

Google has  created a free tool for small online platforms for the user to create an online platform to deal with disturbing terrorist content. Named ‘Altitude’, the free new tool is built by Jigsaw, which is a unit within Google that tracks disinformation, extremism, censorship and a non-profit group called ‘Tech Against Terrorism’. The project is further working with the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an industry-led group which was founded in 2017 by Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Altitude is not just a tool; it’s a lifeline. It equips smaller platforms with access to a central database curated by the United Nations-backed Tech Against Terrorism, containing a vast array of digital fingerprints of content deemed to be created by terrorist organizations. This digital arsenal allows platforms to identify and swiftly remove harmful content, protecting their communities from the insidious spread of extremism.

The landscape of online extremism is in constant flux. While larger platforms have tightened their grip on harmful content, Yasmin Green, CEO of Jigsaw, warns that groups like ISIS haven’t simply vanished. They’ve shifted tactics, migrating to the fertile ground of smaller and less-monitored websites and file-sharing platforms. This highlights the ongoing need for vigilance and adaptation in the fight against online extremism. It’s not just about closing down megaphones; it’s about staying ahead of the curve, working collaboratively across platforms and organizations, and developing innovative solutions to combat these shifting threats. Only through collective action can we ensure a safer and more inclusive online environment, where harmful ideologies find no purchase.

Real-Life Examples:

Imagine this: a community forum focused on local gardening suddenly encounters a post promoting violent ideologies. Armed with Altitude, the platform can scan the post against the database, instantly recognizing the telltale fingerprints and swiftly taking it down. This empowers smaller platforms to become active participants in the fight against online terrorism, no longer mere bystanders in the face of hate.

Case Study: A gardening forum in Southeast Asia: A user posted a seemingly innocuous comment praising a recent terrorist attack. The forum, a user of Altitude, instantly flagged the comment. Upon analysis, Altitude’s algorithms connected the text to known terrorist propaganda in the database, enabling the forum to swiftly remove the comment and report it to authorities. This prevented the spread of harmful ideology and potentially even real-world violence.

Global Impact: In 2023, a small social media platform in Europe identified a network of accounts spreading neo-Nazi content. Using Altitude, they cross-referenced their flagged content with the database, uncovering a wider web of interconnected propaganda campaigns. This information was shared with larger platforms and law enforcement, leading to a coordinated takedown of the entire network.

But Altitude’s impact extends beyond content removal. It fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Smaller platforms, once isolated in their struggle, can now connect with a network of peers facing similar challenges. This network not only shares best practices but also amplifies their collective voice, pushing for industry-wide solutions to combat online extremism.

Attitude employs combination of technologies

Altitude by Jigsaw Google, while not divulging its full technical details, utilizes a combination of technologies to empower small online platforms in the fight against terrorist content. Here’s a breakdown of the key elements:

Data Sources:

  • Tech Against Terrorism (TAT) Database: This central repository holds a vast collection of digital fingerprints of terrorist content, including text, images, and videos, identified by a global network of terrorism experts. Altitude taps into this database, providing platforms access to a constantly updated list of harmful material.
  • Platform Data: Platforms can also upload their own flagged content to the database, contributing to the collective knowledge base and enriching the detection algorithms.

Content Matching:

  • Hashing and Fingerprinting: Altitude employs hashing algorithms to create unique, digital fingerprints of terrorist content. These fingerprints are then compared to the fingerprints in the TAT database for quick identification of matches.
  • Machine Learning: Machine learning algorithms play a crucial role in analyzing suspicious content, identifying patterns and potential connections to known terrorist material. This allows for the detection of even nuanced variations or modifications of known extremist content.

Content Moderation Tools:

  • Automated Removal: Platforms can integrate Altitude with their existing content moderation systems to automatically remove identified terrorist content. This swift response minimizes the reach and exposure to harmful material.
  • Reporting and Analysis: Altitude provides platforms with detailed reports on identified content, including its source, potential harm, and context. This data empowers platforms to make informed moderation decisions and track trends in terrorist activity online.

Additional Technologies:

  • API Integration: Altitude offers an easy-to-use API that seamlessly integrates with various platform architectures and content management systems. This ensures smooth adoption and efficient utilization of the tool.
  • Scalability and Security: The platform is designed to handle the immense volume of content on the internet while maintaining robust security measures to protect both platform data and the core database.

Overall, Altitude combines several technologies to deliver an effective content moderation solution tailored for smaller platforms. By leveraging the collective expertise of Google, Tech Against Terrorism, and the broader user community, Altitude aims to create a safer online environment for all.

Collaboration and Knowledge-Sharing:

  • Community-Driven Database: Platforms using Altitude can contribute their own identified terrorist content to the central database, enriching the data pool and improving detection accuracy for the entire community.
  • Best Practices and Open Forums: Sharing experiences and best practices in content moderation across platforms, regardless of size, can lead to collective improvement and the development of robust industry-wide solutions.
  • Global Partnerships: Collaboration with government agencies, NGOs, and tech giants can amplify the impact of tools like Altitude, fostering a multi-stakeholder approach to tackling online extremism.

Ethical Considerations:

Of course, questions arise. Concerns about transparency and potential misuse of such powerful tools are valid.

  • Censorship Concerns: The vast power to identify and remove content raises concerns about censorship and suppression of legitimate discourse. Transparency in database criteria and algorithmic decision-making is crucial to ensuring fair and accountable content moderation.
  • Bias and Misidentification: Machine learning algorithms, while powerful, can be susceptible to biases and generate false positives. Thorough testing and human oversight are necessary to minimize the risk of mistakenly taking down lawful content.
  • Chilling Effect: The fear of inadvertently triggering content removal might discourage users from expressing themselves freely. Clear guidelines and avenues for appeal are essential to protect freedom of expression while combating harmful content.

Google, alongside Tech Against Terrorism, emphasizes responsible development and ethical implementation. The database operates under strict governance, ensuring accountability and minimizing the risk of censorship.

Future of Altitude:

  • AI Advancements: Incorporating more sophisticated AI technologies like natural language processing can enable proactive detection of emerging trends and subtle variations in extremist narratives.
  • Multilingual Capabilities: Expanding the database and algorithms to cover a wider range of languages can expand Altitude’s reach and effectiveness in diverse online communities.
  • Proactive Outreach: Partnering with smaller platforms and providing training and education on identifying and combatting terrorist content can equip them to proactively utilize Altitude’s potential.

Ultimately, Altitude represents a crucial step towards a safer online landscape. By empowering smaller platforms to play their part, it creates a united front against the forces of hate and violence. It’s a beacon of hope, illuminating the dark corners of the web and giving voice to those who stand for inclusivity and peace.

About Rajesh Uppal

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