theresa may

May threatens fines against internet giants who fail to remove terrorist propaganda

Theresa May has said internet companies will have a maximum of two hours to remove online terrorist propaganda in the future and are being given one month to develop a technical fix to enable this.

May, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni are set to raise the issue at the upcoming annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

Interior ministers from the G7 group will meet in Rome on 20 October to decide whether enough progress has been made. If not, internet companies could be faced with legislative action such as fines for failing to act.

May will say it is time to step up efforts to tackle extremists’ use of the internet and block access to ideologies which “preach hatred, sow division and undermine our common humanity”.

Internet companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Google said they will attend the meeting.

“Defiance alone is not enough. As Prime Minister, I have visited too many hospitals and seen too many innocent people murdered in my country,” May is expected to say.

“When I think of the hundreds of thousands of victims of terrorism in countries across the world, I think of their friends, their families, their communities, devastated by this evil. And I say enough is enough.”

The Islamic State terror group has developed a more sophisticated use of social media than earlier militants like al Qaida, disseminating more than 27,000 items through outlets like Twitter in a five-month period between January and May this year.

Twitter said it had removed 299,649 accounts in the first half of this year for the “promotion of terrorism”, a 20 per cent decline from the previous six months, although it gave no reason for the drop. Three-quarters of those accounts were suspended before posting their first tweet.

Links to material ranging from bomb-making instructions to videos glamorising the group and calls to commit atrocities with cars and knives in Western cities are spread rapidly, with the majority of shares taking place in the first two hours.

Experts believe that by removing links more quickly, access to the material can be dramatically reduced, even if it takes longer to eradicate every trace of it from sites like YouTube.

May will also hail progress made by tech companies since the establishment in June of an industry forum to counter terrorism.

But she will make urge them to go “further and faster” in developing artificial intelligence solutions to automatically reduce the period terror propaganda remains available and eventually prevent it appearing at all.

Britain, France and Italy will come together behind a target of one to two hours to take down terrorist content wherever it appears.

One Downing Street source said that online companies “have been doing something, but just not enough”.

The source said: “These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They should really be focusing that on what matters, which is stopping the spread of terrorism and violence.

“We want them to break the echo chambers.”

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