Belfast Telegraph

MPs give internet giants a dressing down over abusive content

Twitter, Facebook and Google have been warned they have a "terrible reputation" over their efforts to tackle abusive content.

The internet giants came under fire as their senior representatives were questioned by MPs.

Commons Home Affairs committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper gave a string of examples of material on social media sites.

The Labour MP told the three witnesses she found none of their responses "particularly convincing".

She said: " We understand the challenges you face ... but you all have millions of users in the UK and you make billions of pounds from these users.

"You all have a terrible reputation among users for dealing swiftly with problems in content even against your own community standards.

"Surely when you manage to have such a good reputation with advertisers for targeting content and for doing all kinds of sophisticated things with your platforms, surely you should be able to do a better job in order to be able to keep your users safe online and deal with this kind of hate speech."

And referring to profit made by YouTube last year, committee member David Winnick accused the platform of "commercial prostitution".

Before the hearing the committee referred a number of pieces of content to the companies.

In one example, a video relating to National Action, an extreme right-wing group banned as a terrorist organisation, was removed from YouTube after it was flagged.

However, Ms Cooper questioned how the content could be allowed to appear in the first place.

She said: "There aren't that many proscribed organisations. Don't you feel any sense of responsibility as a multi-billion pound organisation to at least check that you are not distributing material from proscribed organisations?"

Peter Barron, of Google, which runs YouTube, said: "We have 400 hours of video uploaded onto YouTube every minute which is an extraordinary amount of content.

"Clearly, we don't want illegal content on our platforms and when flagged to us we remove that as quickly as we possibly can."

Meanwhile, four pages that were flagged to Facebook all remained on the site, including one titled "Ban Islam".

Simon Milner, from the social network, told the committee: "These pages in and of themselves do not violate because we make it clear that you can criticise religions. You cannot express hate against people because of their religion.

"So Ban Islam is a page which is designed to criticise Islam as a religion. It is not expressly, in and of itself, designed to attack Muslims."

Mr Milner insisted Facebook deployed a lot of time, effort and resource to tackling the problem.

"To suggest we are in some way negligent or not caring about this issue is simply not true," he said.

Meanwhile, Twitter suspended three accounts that were highlighted to it but one, which included a tweet with a hashtag "deport all Muslims", remained.

Nick Pickles, from the microblogging site, said that while it was "highly offensive" the tweet did not breach its rules around hateful conduct.

He apologised that Ms Cooper had not yet received a response over tweets including abusive references to German chancellor Angela Merkel and London Mayor Sadiq Khan that she had reported.

Mr Pickles told the committee Twitter has recently rolled out technology to help identify accounts which break its rules, in addition to the system of user reporting.

He said: "That's a step change in how we deal with abuse."