White House announces tech company efforts to combat violent extremism

The White House on Thursday announced that major companies would roll out a series of new policies and tools to combat the spread of extremism on their sites.

Major social media services, including YouTube, Twitch, Microsoft and Facebook-parent Meta, announced their new initiatives to limit the spread of hateful rhetoric in coordination with a White House gathering on hate-fueled violence. The announcements follow mounting pressure on the companies to address the role their services play in amplifying hateful rhetoric, especially in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., where the shooters had histories of violent rhetoric online.

Before massacre, Uvalde gunman frequently threatened teen girls online

YouTube will update its policies to remove videos glorifying acts for the purpose of inspiring others or fundraising, even when the creators don’t have links to terrorist groups. Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming service, soon will roll out new tools to help its creators improve safety and limit harassment on their channels. And Microsoft will launch online safety education for students and families within its popular game Minecraft.

Political pressure has been mounting on President Biden and Vice President Harris to follow through on their campaign pledges to more closely scrutinize the link between social media and violence. Biden is also expected to reiterate Thursday his calls to Congress to “fundamentally reform” Section 230, a legal shield that protects tech companies from lawsuits over the photos, videos and other content people share on their services. He also is expected to support creating transparency requirements that would allow researchers and the public to look under the hood of social media companies.

Biden and Harris say the tech industry “must bear responsibility” for the role that their services play in amplifying violent extremist ideologies, according to a website for Thursday’s summit.

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The flurry of announcements comes as tech companies are increasingly under the microscope for their role in spreading hatred and violence. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol also has probed social media companies and spoken to their current and former employees in an effort to determine the role tech played in the attack.

However, Democrats’ ability to pass new policies addressing these concerns is limited in the current Congress, where they hold a fragile majority with Harris’s tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 Senate. Republicans have different criticisms of social media companies’ content moderation practices, arguing that the companies take down too much content.

In the absence of action from Congress, lawmakers and advocates have relied on public pressure to force businesses to change their policies on their own. The companies will additionally announce steps to expand public awareness about such ideologies and to better research extremism. YouTube will launch a campaign, initially in the United States, focused on helping young people identify manipulated information online. Meta will begin a partnership with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism to study new trends in extremism.

Thursday’s summit builds on other recent work in the White House. In June, Harris announced a new task force that would study and develop policy recommendations to address online abuse.

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