The UK, France and Italy have promised to hold technology companies to account if they fail to block online terrorist or extremist content, with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, promising to “name and shame” companies that do not take robust action.
“We have to have a name and shame policy here,” he told a gathering of security officials and representatives of the biggest technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, at the UN General Assembly in New York. “We have to . . . denounce those who are against us. You have to decide where you stand.”
Mr Macron was flanked by Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and Paolo Gentiloni, her Italian counterpart, at the meeting in New York. “It was a true tripartite effort,” said one person at the meeting.
But the technology companies did not send their chief executives to hear the concerns from Europe. Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, attended the meeting and made a statement, but Facebook sent lower ranking executives, according to one person in the room, and “lurked in the background . . . we were pretty surprised, to be honest.”
The meeting came after Mrs May and Donald Trump, the US president, discussed the need for internet companies to behave in a socially responsible way, move quickly to remove terrorist material and to stop it from appearing in the first place.
Mrs May challenged the internet companies to develop technology that would stop “evil material” appearing on the web or remove it within two hours of it appearing online. “Industry needs to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online, and developing technological solutions which prevent it being uploaded in the first place,” she said.
She has not ruled out legislation that could impose fines on groups if they fail to act.
“At the end of the day these companies have the valuation and the money to do something about this,” said one person in attendance at the UN meeting. “They can’t hide behind the algorithm.”
Internet companies have begun to take steps to eradicate and block extremist content. Twitter said it had suspended nearly 300,000 accounts linked to terrorism in the first half of 2017 while Google’s YouTube is increasing its use of technology to help automatically identify extremist videos.
Google revealed this week that it is providing $5m to support projects that fight extremism, with £1m going to projects in the UK.