The Technology 202: A researcher is still surfacing videos of the Christchurch attacks on Facebook and Instagram two months later

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A researcher is still spotting videos of the Christchurch shootings on Facebook and Instagram — two months after the New Zealand attacks that killed 51 and spurred technology companies and governments to pledge more vigilance about the spread of hate online.

As of yesterday, there were at least two videos of the shootings available on Instagram and two videos available on Facebook, according to Eric Feinberg, a researcher and chief executive of GiPEC, a cyber­intelligence start-up that tracks harmful activity on tech platforms. Facebook removed all four videos yesterday afternoon after the Technology 202 reviewed them and reached out to the social network for comment.

Feinberg says he detected the videos by hunting for obvious hashtags — searching for the terms such as “New Zealand mosque attack” in various languages, including Arabic. (He used similar techniques to identify posts about drugs on social media). Feinberg says if he can find these posts independently, it casts skepticism on the efficacy of Facebook’s recent investments to improve its ability to moderate violent content on its platform.

“I think it’s just appalling,” Feinberg said. “They’ve been on notice that these exist.”

“You would think that with the 30,000 moderators they have that they would put a full court press on this,” he added. The teams working on safety and security at Facebook are now more than 30,000, and about half this team are content reviewers — a mix of full-time employees, contractors and companies.

Facebook has struggled to keep up with the deluge of Christchurch shooting videos that were posted to its website after the alleged gunman used Facebook Live to broadcast the shooting in real time. Even after that video was removed, copies were already saved, and posted across a wide range of social media services, including YouTube and1.5 Twitter. Facebook says it continues to try to stamp out videos of the shooting — but it hasn’t shared data about how many of those videos it’s still blocking or removing since it said it removed 1.5 million videos in the first 24 hours after the attack.

“We continue to automatically detect and prevent new uploads of this content on our platforms, using a database of more than 900 visually unique versions of this video,” Facebook spokeswoman Sally Aldous said. “When we identify isolated instances of newly edited versions of the video being uploaded, we take it down and add it to our database to prevent future uploads of the same version being shared.”

Facebook added the videos the Technology 202 flagged to its database so that future uploads will be prevented.

One of the major challenges for Facebook has been a proliferation of many different variants of the video, which people edited. Facebook deployed a number of techniques to find these variants, but says it is investing $7.5 million in new research projects to allow it to detect manipulated media and better distinguish between unwitting posters and intentional adversaries. The company also introduced new restrictions on Facebook Live to try to prevent other violent events from being live broadcast in the future.

Google and Twitter have also struggled to police the proliferation of the video. Feinberg said he did not find any copies of the video still available on these platforms in recent days.

Facebook announced these changes as it joined several other companies and foreign governments in signing the Christchurch Call yesterday — a global pledge to stamp out violent extremism online. Companies including Amazon, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, promised to work more closedly with each other and governments to prevent their sites from fostering terrorism. 

The pledge is largely symbolic because the document is non-binding. The White House did not sign onto the pledge after Trump administration officials said free-speech concerns prevented them from formally approving it.

Feinberg says “there’s no teeth” in the pledge, and he believes it’s time for Congress to overhaul Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a legal provision that gives the technology platforms broad immunity for the content that third parties post on their sites.

“It’s not for the White House to comment, it’s for Congress to legislate Section 230,” he said.

There’s growing support in Congress for an overhaul to the law in the wake of the New Zealand attacks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on a recent podcast that the provision’s future “could be a question mark and in jeopardy.”

BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES

BITS: The Trump administration stepped up its war with Facebook, Google and Twitter yesterday as it called on Internet users to fill out a form if they feel they’e been censored by the tech giants, my colleague Tony Romm reportsThe unprecedented ask follows President Trump’s long-running complaints that these services are biased against conservatives. 

The White House says the effort is directed at users “no matter your views.” On Twitter, the White House shared an online survey, which asks people to submit their name, contact information and other details. The form asks people to detail problems with censorship on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 

The tool in which users can complain can be found here.

The White House also asked those filling out the form whether they wanted email newsletters about “President Trump’s fight for free speech,” so the administration “can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.” Tony notes in his story that President Trump is a prolific tweeter, often blasting his thoughts to his more than 60 million followers.

The White House declined to comment on how it plans to use the data and whether it intends to try and regulate the companies. 

“The White House wants to hear from all Americans — regardless of their political leanings — if they have been impacted by bias on social media platforms,” spokesman Judd Deere told Tony in a statement.

The companies have repeatedly denied they censor content on their platforms due to political motives. 

Tech industry observers were very skeptical of the administration’s announcement. Kevin Roose of the New York Times noted the tool may be a means for the White House to build a contact list:

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac said: 

People also pointed out the many technical shortcomings of the tool. Daily Dot politics editor David Covucci noted the survey had a unique test for whether respondents were robots:

NIBBLES: The Trump administration hit the Chinese tech firm Huawei with an extreme penalty that will limit its ability to do business with U.S. companies, my colleagues Damian Paletta, Ellen Nakashima and David J. Lynch report. 

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security said it is adding Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to its “Entity List,” which my colleagues note is known to some as the “death penalty.” The Commerce Department said it added the company to the list because Huawei “is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest.”

The telecommunications giant with significant backing from the Chinese government has been in regulators’ crosshairs. The Justice Department has accused the company of violating Iran sanctions, among other things. 

“President Trump has directed the Commerce Department to be vigilant in its protection of national security activities,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

The move came right after Trump signed an executive order that expands the government’s ability to protect communciations networks. You can read more about that from my colleague Joseph Marks in the Cybersecurity 202 today

BYTES: The White House declined to sign the Christchurch Call to stamp out extremism online — in yet another example of the U.S. standing at odds with its closest allies, my colleagues Tony and Drew Harwell report.

The White House said free speech concerns prevented U.S. officials from formally signing onto the pact endorsed by other world leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern organized the gathering in Paris where the pact was unveiled.

“The White House felt the document could present constitutional concerns, officials there said, potentially conflicting with the First Amendment, even though Trump previously has threatened to regulate social media out of concern that it’s biased against conservatives,” my colleagues wrote. 

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter joined the pledge, promising to collaborate with each other and governments to stamp out terrorism on their services. 

“It is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence,” Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter said in a joint statement. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The governments committed to counter online extremism, including through new regulation, and to “encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online.” 

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