PLATFORMS WANT CENTRALIZED CENSORSHIP. THAT SHOULD SCARE YOU…(10…)

Friday, April 19, 2019
By Paul Martin

EMMA LLANSO
WIRED.COM
04.18.19

IN THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of the horrific attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, internet companies faced intense scrutiny over their efforts to control the proliferation of the shooter’s propaganda. Responding to many questions about the speed of their reaction and the continued availability of the shooting video, several companies published posts or gave interviews that revealed new information about their content moderation efforts and capacity to respond to such a high-profile incident.

This kind of transparency and information sharing from these companies is a positive development. If we’re going to have coherent discussions about the future of our information environment, we—the public, policymakers, the media, website operators—need to understand the technical realities and policy dynamics that shaped the response to the Christchurch massacre. But some of these responses have also included ideas that point in a disturbing direction: toward increasingly centralized and opaque censorship of the global internet.

Facebook, for example, describes plans for an expanded role for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, or GIFCT. The GIFCT is an industry-led self-regulatory effort launched in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube. One of its flagship projects is a shared database of hashes of files identified by the participating companies to be “extreme and egregious” terrorist content. The hash database allows participating companies (which include giants like YouTube and one-man operations like JustPasteIt) to automatically identify when a user is trying to upload content already in the database.

In Facebook’s post-Christchurch updates, the company discloses that it added 800 new hashes to the database, all related to the Christchurch video. It also mentions that the GIFCT is “experimenting with sharing URLs systematically rather than just content hashes”—that is, creating a centralized (black)list of URLs that would facilitate widespread blocking of videos, accounts, and potentially entire websites or forums.

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