Tech Against Terrorism held a workshop in Paris at their offices on 24th October at the Microsoft Offices. The event brought together attendees from a range of different sectors, including search engines, social media and video content. The aim of the workshop was to highlight emerging trends in terrorist capabilities, including exploitation of tech, and gain an understanding of the key challenges facing tech companies in France in managing this exploitation. Key requests made by participants included a greater provision of resources on how other tech companies moderate content, a demand for transparency reports to be more “fully transparent”, and to make progress towards developing more unanimously recognised definitions.

The morning session begun with discussion on terrorism trends and modern technology. A representative from a law enforcement agency called on the necessity of agreement on common criteria for assessment, on further investment in technology, and on the importance of sharing expertise. An academic emphasised the ‘politics of the deed’, where images can now be quickly more spread, where “nothing is more exposing than the 9 o’clock news”. Fundamentally, participants agreed that it is important we all recognise the advantages of modern technology alongside its negatives, namely in combating and challenging terrorist use (such as through the spread of counter narratives).

In the afternoon, the main challenges discussed involved content moderation (especially on smaller platforms with less capability), the fundamental requirement for greater transparency, and the need to address definitional problems.

In relation to content moderation, a representative from a social network startup spoke of the challenges in moderating a platform with 15+ million users, particularly without any criminal knowledge on how to approach terrorism or violence. While a moderation system is now in place (circulating over 20,000 reports per day), the question of identity remains “we never know who is behind the screen”. A key recommendation was the production of a company benchmark or report, a document that raised awareness on what other companies are doing, including the tools that they deploy, with the open sharing of personal and practical experience.

Regarding the need for transparency, while it was admitted that companies are doing well, some of the reports still contain ‘guarded responses’. As one individual stated “if you want to be transparent, be fully transparent”. This could include greater distinctions between ‘government requests’, namely are these requests coming from a local or a federal level. Finally, in relation to the ‘wicked problem’ of definitions, it was requested for the Knowledge Sharing Platform to collate popular definitions and keywords, to act as a useful starting point for small startups in adding to their own understanding and capability.

We want to thank Microsoft for their support and providing us a venue, and to all of our participants for their insights.