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Going After Terrorists Online, White House Meets With US Tech Companies

  • Molly McKitterick

FILE - An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on Aug. 25, 2015, purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

FILE - An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on Aug. 25, 2015, purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

Fighting the battle against terrorism on the Internet, the White House and its top law enforcement officials met Friday with the nation’s biggest technology companies in San Jose, California.

The list of government participants reveals just how seriously the Obama administration is taking the threat posed by Islamic State and others on social media. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were there with President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and his top counterterrorism adviser.

They were expected to brief executives from tech companies on how terrorists use technology, including encryption, and to discuss ways to use technology to make it harder for terrorists to use the Internet for recruiting and mobilizing followers.

The meeting agenda, leaked to various news organizations, also called for a discussion on how the government and tech companies can "help others to create, publish and amplify alternative content that would undercut" the Islamic State.

Obama had signaled in a December speech that he was going after terrorists online, saying he planned to "urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice."

A senior administration official confirmed Friday that this meeting was part of a larger push, saying it “is the latest in the administration's continuing dialogue with technology providers and others to ensure we are bringing our best private and public sector thinking to combating terrorism."

The tech companies, which included Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and LinkedIn, say they remove violent content when it appears. They have also expressed reluctance to interfere with constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.

In a December study, researchers at the George Washington University Program on Extremism concluded that “media plays a crucial role in the radicalization and, at times, mobilization of U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers.”

The researchers identified some 300 American and/or U.S.-based IS sympathizers active on social media who were spreading disinformation and interacting with like-minded individuals.

“Some members of this online echo chamber eventually make the leap from keyboard warriors to actual militancy,” the researchers warned.

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