Content Moderation Group Favored by Big Tech Expands Scope of Blacklisted Content

Experts worry that the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism could unfairly censor users

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July 29, 2021

A nonprofit organization that major U.S. tech companies rely on for content moderation is expanding the scope of content it will blacklist on social media platforms.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism will expand its database of terrorist content to cover content shared by white nationalist and alt-right users, Reuters reported Monday. Tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter, rely on the forum's database to automatically remove inappropriate content. Experts worry that the forum's lack of transparency could cause some users to be unfairly censored.

The forum's initiative allows social media companies to point to an external standard for content moderation. Social media companies have been criticized for cracking down on speech without offering a justification to users. Facebook recently came under fire for "fact-checking" reports that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism was created in 2017 to censor content from U.N.-designated terrorist organizations. The forum's board is advised by the European Union's Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, which recently released a report entitled "It's Not Funny Anymore: Far-Right Extremists' Use of Humor."

The report warns that some of the most common memes on the internet are being coopted by "far-right circles" to "gradually radicalise" users. The group recommends that if companies don't remove certain content directly, they should "quarantine extremist humour—and therefore extremist ideas" by limiting its reach. The report also recommends that content moderators should "build up effective partnerships with progressive communities."

Some watchdog groups warned that the forum needs to improve its accountability and transparency as it expands its reach.

"As the database expands, the risks of mistaken takedown only increase," said Emma Llanso, director of free expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Nicholas Rasmussen, the forum's executive director, acknowledged that expanding the database increased the risk of "violating someone's rights on the internet to engage in free expression."