At an intelligence and national security summit in Washington, officials from the US, Britain, Germany and Canada called for greater cooperation from social media platforms as they face a new kind of threat.
Traditional intelligence methods are built on intercepting plots with an overseas connection, but as the focus shifts to home-grown terrorism, authorities are increasingly concerned with the growing number of self-radicalized individuals seeking out extremist content online.
Countries are too preoccupied with attacks perpetrated from abroad by groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda said Paddy McGuinness, the British deputy national security adviser for intelligence.
Looking at the four attacks in Britain this year, it’s clear that “we are dealing with conspiracies that really do not involve an overseas element,” he told the forum, AFP reported.
“We’re dealing with a problem in our communities, with people who do not travel, and become radicalized and move to violence. These were British plots by British people,” he added.
Many of these individuals are actively seeking out extremist content online, turning to social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, an encrypted messaging service.
Recent efforts to crack down on content promoting terrorist ideology by some of the larger social media outlets has pushed extremists onto some of the smaller platforms, making it increasingly difficult to monitor the spread of extremist content online.
According to Nick Pickles, Twitter’s head of policy in the UK and Ireland, the company has suspended 650,000 users, with 75 percent of those accounts detected through technological means.
Facebook, meanwhile, has set up a dedicated desk to deal with concerns related to extremist accounts as part of its online Civil Courage initiative.
Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google have also come together to develop an image-hashing database that helps them identify extremist accounts by monitoring shared images and tracing them back to new accounts created by extremist users.
But counter-terrorism chiefs want more support from social media, particularly in the US where strict privacy laws prohibit access to large sections of the American Internet. McGuinness told the forum that over 95 percent of crime and terror cases involve people using an American technology application.
He pointed to regulations, such as the ban on US Internet companies responding to terror-related search warrants from foreign authorities, that impede the ability of countries to identify lone- wolf threats.
Christian Rousseau, head of Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center, said potential attackers are increasingly using the dark web to communicate, and highlighted a need to adjust the country’s legislation to match the European balance between protecting privacy and identifying intentional terrorism.
In the US, authorities have had some success from sharing large amounts of evidence of potential extremist activity with the social media companies themselves to pressure them to act.