Tech companies face stiff criticism for their inability to prevent extremism from spreading via their platforms.
This became particularly evident after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch back in March, with a live-stream of the attack shared widely on social media.
As a result, a meeting of technology executives and global leaders has been arranged, with the ultimate aim of curbing violent extremism online.
Representatives from Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft are all expected to attend, and French President Emmanuel Macron – who is co-chairing with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – already met with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last week. France has particularly strong views, and wants to introduce new rules which would punish any site that publishes violent content or extreme opinions.
Of late, large tech firms have displayed an increased willingness to curb extremist views on their platforms.
Facebook has banned several figures whom it regards as “dangerous individuals”, including Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who has expressed anti-semitic views. Alex Jones, host of right-wing conspiracy website InfoWars, and its UK editor Paul Joseph Watson are also now banned.
But until these first steps, Facebook, Twitter and the like have been reluctant to accept their role as publishers or censors, arguing instead that they merely provide a platform for content to be shared.
It is problematic to instantly demand that a tech company be treated as a traditional media outlet, expecting it to run the rule of media law across the millions of posts, videos, and articles that appear every single day.
But neither is it fair for Silicon Valley titans to hold their hands up in innocence, pleading to the world that they are just the messenger, while raking in billions of dollars of advertising revenue.
Freedom of the press is a value that has struggled to translate to the internet age – it cannot be interpreted to mean that all things should be published.
It is obvious that shocking posts drive more clicks than established and mundane schools of thought. The wilder the position, the better the profit for the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube.
Freedom of the press is the right to publish what is in the public’s interest, and it this interpretation that big tech must understand and adopt. It may not be a legal compulsion, but it is a social responsibility, and companies which advertise on these platforms also have a duty.
If social media firms are the gatekeepers of twenty-first century content, boardrooms who sign off on the digital marketing budget must be ready to ask harder questions.