Could Twitter Stop the Next Terrorist Attack?
Social media giants including Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook and Google are pushing back against Senate legislation that would require them to alert federal authorities of any terrorist activity, according to industry and government officials. In private meetings on Capitol Hill, industry officials have told lawmakers and congressional staff that they already ban grisly content like beheadings and alert law enforcement if they suspect someone might get hurt, as soon as they are aware of a threat. But tech officials also said they worry that the proposed legislation is too broad and would potentially put companies on the hook legally if they miss a tweet, video or blog that hints of an attack. They said the result would probably be a deluge of tips to law enforcement, making it tougher for the government to find more valuable information. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is backing the legislation, says requiring social media companies to tip off law enforcement to a pending terrorist attack makes sense. “The FBI and the intelligence community have made it abundantly clear that the terrorist threat is severe and increasing, and that those directing, inspiring and carrying out attacks make heavy use of social media sites,” Feinstein told the AP in an emailed statement. “This provision will help get potentially actionable information to the agencies responsible for preventing attacks, without requiring companies to take any steps to monitor their sites they aren’t already taking.” The tech industry in 2013 faced a public relations nightmare after former government analyst Edward Snowden leaked details of a massive government surveillance program that relied on their cooperation. Company officials said the law gave them no choice but to supply consumer data and comply with gag orders that prevented companies from talking about it. Still, many consumers and Internet activists were furious that US businesses had enabled the government to spy on their customers, in some cases even charging the government administrative fees to do it. Since then, the tech industry has led an aggressive public push to limit surveillance requests and increase transparency, adopting more sophisticated encryption techniques despite opposition from the Justice Department. At the same time, popular social media sites have become instrumental in helping terrorist groups expand their influence, despite widespread industry policies against posting or promoting terrorist-related content.