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Terror Watch: Congress Increase Pressure on Social Media Platforms

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The disparity between governmental policies and social media continues to bristle. Not a week after the US passed legislations which allow investigators to trawl Facebook for evidence of benefit fraud, congressional pressure has mounted for all platforms to free up more public information to support the war on terror. There's no disputing the fact that counter-terrorism is important, but how much can actually gained from impeaching people's privacy to try and root out extremist instigators?

It's hard to say, there's plenty of evidence to assert that social media has played a role in the planning of terrorist attacks in the past and the role it plays in the ISIS hierarchy is no secret, but that doesn't necessarily conclude that it's an effective means of tracking them down. The Senate Intelligence Committee are proposing (or asserting) that social media companies should be forced to disclose any information appearing on their networks that potentially suggests terrorist activity.

Of course, what does and does not suggest terrorist activity is always going to be a matter of opinion, on some level, so such an initiative will always carry a risk of people being incorrectly marked, and thus having their privacy invaded. Some might argue that it's a small price to pay for maintaining national security, but once again, the effectiveness of the method is far from proven.

None of the platforms in question (Facebook, Twitter, Google and all the other big hitters) have claimed a stance on the issue, but Google and Yahoo both cited a post from the Centre for Democracy and Technology which argued that this kind of legislation would effectively turn social media into a police watchdog, which is hard to take as a good thing. Law enforcement is already authorised to trawl social media under certain circumstances, such as with child pornography, but there's far less of a grey area with something like that.

There is a very acute irony to all this, though. As much as the platforms are pushing back against governmental pressure to realise more circumstantial personal info, they seem to have far less qualms about doing so when advertisers ask for it. Any kind of targeted advertising you've ever seen is a result of your social media data being shared with advertisers, something which you never actually agreed to. Is that really any better?

Most platforms already have policies regarding perceivably terrorist content, but it's more about blocking and removing it than actually reporting the perpetrator to the authorities. This strikes me as one of those 'time will tell' situations, since successful efforts to track down terrorist plots online are rarely widely reported and when they are, the severity of what could have happened is often unclear. In layman's terms, news reports of a successful terrorist attack are always going to hit harder and circle more widely than reports of a thwarted one. This is far from the most frictional dispute between a government and social media, but it's indicative of issues that are going to keep intensifying as connectivity continues to grow.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Terror Watch: Congress Increase Pressure on Social Media Platforms Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 Rating: 5

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