Insanity: Theresa May Says Internet Companies Need To Remove 'Extremist' Content Within 2 Hours

from the a-recipe-for-censorship dept

It’s fairly stunning just how much people believe that it’s easy for companies to moderate content online. Take, for example, this random dude who assumes its perfectly reasonable for Facebook, Google and Twitter to “manually review all content” on their platforms (and since Google is a search engine, I imagine this means basically all public web content that can be found via its search engine). This is, unfortunately, a complete failure of basic comprehension about the scale of these platforms and how much content flows through them.

Tragically, it’s not just random Rons on Twitter with this idea. Ron’s tweet was in response to UK Prime Minister Theresa May saying that internet platforms must remove “extremist” content within two hours. This is after the UK’s Home Office noted that they see links to “extremist content” remaining online for an average of 36 hours. Frankly, 36 hours seems incredibly low. That’s pretty fast for platforms to be able to discover such content, make a thorough analysis of whether or not it truly is “extremist content” and figure out what to do about it. Various laws on takedowns usually have statements about a “reasonable” amount of time to respond — and while there are rarely set numbers, the general rule of thumb seems to be approximately 24 hours after notice (which is pretty aggressive).

But for May to now be demanding two hours is crazy. It’s a recipe for widespread censorship. Already we see lots of false takedowns from these platforms as they try to take down bad content — we write about them all the time. And when it comes to “extremist” content, things can get particularly ridiculous. A few years back, we wrote about how YouTube took down an account that was documenting atrocities in Syria. And the same thing happened just a month ago, with YouTube deleting evidence of war crimes.

So, May calling for these platforms to take down extremist content in two hours confuses two important things. First, it shows a near total ignorance of the scale of content on these platforms. There is no way possible to actually monitor this stuff. Second, it shows a real ignorance about the whole concept of “extremist” content. There is no clear definition of it, and without a clear definitions wrong decisions will be made. Frequently. Especially if you’re not giving the platforms any time to actually investigate. At best, you’re going to end up with a system with weak AI flagging certain things, and then low-paid, poorly trained individuals in far off countries making quick decisions.

And since the “penalty” for leaving content up will be severe, the incentives will all push towards taking down the content and censorship. The only pushback against this is the slight embarrassment if someone makes a stink about mistargeted takedowns.
Of course, Theresa May doesn’t care about that at all. She’s been bleating on censoring the internet to stop terrorists for quite some time now — and appears willing to use any excuse and make ridiculous demands along the way. It doesn’t appear she has any interest in understanding the nature of the problem, as it’s much more useful to her to be blaming others for terrorist attacks on her watch, than actually doing anything legitimate to stop them. Censoring the internet isn’t a solution, but it allows her to cast blame on foreign companies.

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Companies: facebook, google, twitter

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Comments on “Insanity: Theresa May Says Internet Companies Need To Remove 'Extremist' Content Within 2 Hours”

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76 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Quick Take

I would suggest putting May in the position of finding and analyzing things that might be ‘extremist’, but it is likely that ANYTHING that did not start out with praise for May and/or her ideals would be deleted without further examination.

Then there is the concept of what constitutes ‘extremism’. Extreme could be left or right or up or down or any other label so long as one takes the time to go further than others. What definition will she put into law?

Further, is she employing the concept that what is law in Briton should be law everywhere?

And finally time. Some laws have the ability to be…well let’s say intensive (aka very very long) and might take more than two hours to even read, let alone analyze. Is May purporting that all Internet companies hire super fast readers, or people that can watch video at 4 or more times regular speed, and still comprehend it…comprehensively… and have the full faith and credit to NOT take down something that may not be ‘extreme’? Or is she going to rely on black box algorithms?

Maybe May should be asked about how she will clean up the messes she is making.

Machin Shin says:

Re: Quick Take

“Then there is the concept of what constitutes ‘extremism’. Extreme could be left or right or up or down or any other label so long as one takes the time to go further than others. What definition will she put into law?”

Her opinions are ‘extreme’ I also find them highly offensive. I think she should be banned from the internet.

techturf (profile) says:

Re: Quick Take

That’s the best answer. If she does not state exactly what speech should be taken down, including exact phrases while defining metrics that ensure that non-infringing content which quotes it are not affected so they could automate the process, then the tech companies should assume that the old trope is true: “I’ll know it when I hear it.” They should therefore automatically forward any questionable content to Downing St to ensure that it meets her approval for posting.

aerinai says:

Beholden to your same standards...

I am completely fine with them passing this law… just they also need to pass a few other laws as well.

Law Number 1: This law will find mismanagement of public funds (i.e. graft, kickbacks, improper expenditures, etc.) within the same requisite amount of time within the government. The government heads will then be held responsible any time any of these activities occur and are not caught within 2 hours.

Law Number 2: I also want NHS to be able to identify medical fraud within 2 hours, otherwise the employees will be subject to criminal penalties…

Law Number 3: I want lawmakers to have all of their facts checked and a retraction for their false statements to be done within 2 hours and failure to issue such retraction will result in criminal and civil penalties.

I mean… if asking Google to censor ‘extremist’ content in 2 hours is fine, these should be a piece of cake as well!

hij (profile) says:

Re: Beholden to your same standards...

Your Laws 1 and 2 will likely find support from the current crop of Tories. They will hold bureaucrats to impossible standards that likely would not be enforced. Law 3 is a bit problematic in that it actually impacts politicians which means it would receive a good bit of grandstanding and die a slow, quiet death in a dark corridor in the basements of the Parliament.

XcOM987 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I refuse to beleave that May and her consortium are that stupid, I think they really do know how things work, but have this misconception that working that little bit harder will make magic happen.

I honestly think she just wants to be seen to be doing something, she is grandstanding to the people that unfortunatly don’t understand how tech really works.

Like when a company says “We have greater AI” or “Better prediction” what they really mean is “We’ve added a tonne of If statements and catch clauses”

I see this as nothing more than a power grab from someone who is clinging on to the last bit’s of power she has and grandstanding.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@ XcOM987, given the mess they’re making of Brexit, I TOTALLY believe they are that stupid. Imagine deciding to leave an organisation without any planning, without bothering to find out what leaving entails, or without bothering to find out how the organisation actually works in the first place. Ladies and gentlemen, the Brexiteers. Idiots to a man and woman. I’m ashamed of the lot of them.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Look at the upside

I suspect they’d rather eliminate all user input (or shut down in case of Google, Facebook where almost everything is user generated). And unemployment goes boom. I’d love to see these morons dealing with the backlash such things would cause but so far they’ve been lucky enough to have their craziness blocked by other parties (ie: activism, a few sane politicians etc).

Anonymous Coward says:

Rather than filtering the Internet

How about the British government work on filtering its borders so they don’t have so many extremists in residence? It’s not unreasonable to expect them to catch every violent extremist immigrating into the country. 😉 I’ll even cut them a break and give them 24 hours instead of 2 hours.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Rather than filtering the Internet

Excuse my tinfoil hat but I can’t help wondering whether they let these people roam free on purpose because a) it justifies mass surveillance and b) it keeps the old military-industrial complex ticking over nicely. In the current economic climate it seems that peace would be bad for business.

rgff83dh says:

Re: This is good news

It’s not an accident. Politicians that believe in evidence-based policy and representative democracy cannot be easily bought or controlled.

May in UK, Trump in US, Turnbull in Australia. None of them represent their citizens on any substantial policy issues. They represent the power of money to buy policy and the power of PR to manipulate and game electoral systems.

Votes don’t matter. The support structures under these corrupt governments matter. Are YOU part of the support structure? (hint: we almost all are to some extent).

Anonymous Coward says:

typical UK in charge idiot! hasn’t got a freakin’ clue herself, just like the rest of them in the government! i just wonder how far behind this the entertainment industries are because you can bet your ass that they will be all over this, expecting the same time frame to be used when their content is found! what they and all governments, not just the UK are doing is turning the planet into one where no one has any rights except businesses and those governments. in other words the planet is becoming a slave planet, run by dictators using any excuse to silence anything that tells the truth and removes all rights from everyone who isn’t liked or can be seen as harmful to those above! we soon wont have any say whatsoever in who is running each individual country because the magic 12 top people or however many it is, who have been trying to take control of everywhere for a long time are now so close to doing so and the various security and armed forces are there to preserve them once in position, killing off all who get in the way! welcome Nazis, without firing a shot!

Roger Strong (profile) says:

We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!

-Trump tweet, Nov 6 2012, on Obama’s re-election.

Demanding the overthrow of the democratically elected US government is just one example of his extremist content.

If Theresa May had her way a couple years ago, Trump would have been gone from social media. In turn, he likely wouldn’t be President today.

Hmm. Not the point I was going to make.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

We had this conversation recently.

We were discussing regarding SESTA the problem that any website that has enough user content to be profitible would have too much user content to feasibly afford human moderation for all cases.

But also that wouldn’t help. Humans would have to be held by guidelines too strict to apply quickly, or so lax that the biases of individual moderators would decide what is censored or not. Here in the states Kill the gays! will fly where Kill the Jews! gets blocked.

But considering the character of UK government in the last decade, their next step would be to redefine extremist content to include all dissent.

Because we’ve already seen they really want to go full-Orwell as soon as there’s an opportunity to do so. They’ve been chomping at the bit for it since the Snowden revelations.

Anonymous Coward says:

May has no creativity when it comes to solving problems.

What she should be doing is proposing a law requiring the creation of a few new government organizations starting with the “The Ministry of Truth” who will review all online content. Whenever the Ministry determines content is extremist they notify the platform where the platform has 2 minutes to take the identified content down.

The ministry will also be responsible for sending identification of the uploader to the “Ministry of Love” who will then monitor the extremist uploader possibly sending the “Thought Police” to charge said uploader with thoughtcrimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They could do it, but they won't

What was the process that resulted in that photo being taken down in 1 hour? Do you know? Any clue at all?

Chances are it was reported by another user, not through any automated process. Crowd-sourcing is the only potentially effective means filtering all that content in any appreciable amount of time. The more humans, with all their brain power, view new content the more likely at least one of them will raise an issue if that content is objectionable. Typically that results in some other human reviewing the complaint and making a decision. Seeing this done in an hour on a platform like Facebook is going to be the exception rather than the rule. You can expect even this process to take much longer on average.

Now consider what it would take to have automated systems detect something like an exposed nipple and take the content down as “objectionable”. If that’s what happened in the Facebook case it probably would have happened in under a minute, not in an hour. If it took an hour to find an objectionable image their systems would lag hopelessly behind in their workload in mere milliseconds. Still, have you any idea what it takes to achieve that? What it costs? Do you think that’s a reasonable barrier to entry for new, young internet companies? Or do you see taking voice away from the general public (shutting down Facebook, no more blogs, no more comments sections like this one, etc) to be a worthy tradeoff for not having to see a nipple?

> I think they can probably comply with May’s request.

You’re wrong. Categorically.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: They could do it, but they won't

Unless Facebook has seen the image before, the takedown time is often substantial because the image recognition engine merely flags the posting for review. How quickly it gets reviewed depends on a lot of things include subject matter, how it’s related to current events, who posted it, etc…

If you create an account and post an image that gets flagged the same day, Facebook probably lets the bot take it down. If CNN posted the same image, it probably won’t get taken down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: They could do it, but they won't

Yes! A lot of people don’t understand how similar the two are so thanks for pointing that out.

Both are about identifying patterns that make up features then looking for similar features in new data. It’s how you can ask Google Photos to show you pictures of pugs and it can discriminate between a pug and a boston terrier. It’s all about the characteristics.

Anonymous Coward says:

This has probably been said before and it will probably be said again in the future:

“Why don’t these platforms have a meeting to decide which week they all shut off access to the UK? How many days will it take before a large part of the population are at Theresa May’s door step looking for a resignation?”

The only bad part is that she will probably consider this “extremist”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It would be pretty cool but super unlikely. The UK is to large a piece of their revenue pies for that to happen if it is at all avoidable. And for the huge companies it is avoidable as they can afford to implement AI solutions based on their years of work in image analysis.

The more likely outcome is that all the small to mid-sized players will be excluded from the UK market. This will create several monopolies in that market. Great for the big players, terrible for everyone else.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My solution would be to simply email bomb every MP…

An automated extremism-removal system would’ve been activated by the word ‘bomb’ in your comment. This reply too, now that I think about it. Y’know, it’d be pretty hard to discuss what’s filtered as extremism in a world that filters ‘extremism’. Oppressive governments are kinda funny, sometimes; that is, when they’re not crushing your spirit and any lingering shreds of hope you might have left for the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The people that Twitter and Facebook have running their community standards offices right now are letting extremist content through while banning the old-fashioned liberals and libertarians who have moderate opinions that unite the left and right. Often the bannable offense is opposing the extremist content. No policy is worth a damn when the people running the implementation are batshit insane or are deliberately causing trouble.

Anonymous Coward says:

You make the mistake of thinking the objective is to take down extremist content within 2 hours.

It’s not. It’s to silence competing narratives and restore the control over information that these bloodsuckers had before the internet came along.

It’s not a conspiracy. They don’t think of it in those terms. They just feel an instinctive hostility to anything that threatens their power – and an open internet is the biggest threat there is.

stderric (profile) says:

Tragically, it’s not just random Rons on Twitter with this idea.

A Random Ron – Anyone who makes a comment related to the internet or any area of IT in which his/her estimate of scale is off by so many orders of magnitude that it makes you want to laugh your way to a brain aneurysm.

What, The Streisand Effect wasn’t enough for you?

Anonymous Coward says:

"A few years back, we wrote about how YouTube took down an account that was documenting atrocities in Syria. And the same thing happened just a month ago, with YouTube deleting evidence of war crimes."

Nice try, Mike, at attempting to project the illusion that inappropriate take-downs happen infrequently at the Google owned product known as "YouTube". In reality, inappropriate take-downs happen hundreds of time a day, if not more often, because very seldom, if ever do they inspect the content after having been asked to take it down and taking it down, and because most take-down requests are motivated simply by content rubbing someone’s sensibilities the wrong way and not for any valid real world reason, most of them can therefore be categorized as INAPPROPRIATE.

XcOM987 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think that might have been the point Mike was trying to make, it’s just he focused on the grey area’s where these videos/channels were flagged WITH human intervention, how bad do you think it would be without human intervention.

I am sure if you check through TD enough you will find plenty of articles that mention the many many takedowns on the likes of YouTube that are plainly baseless.

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