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.
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.
Would this look any different, in shape if not actual configuration, from the machinery already used by totalitarian regimes to deploy pervasive and aggressive thought police against their own populations to prune “undesirable” content from the Internet? Why should we trust all future leaders who would inherit such capabilities to use it responsibly? How do we define what constitutes responsible use? Why should we even trust today’s leaders when in the US they make a regular thing of demanding “apologies” for perceived insults and suppressing thought by not just butchering the funding for basic scientific research at government agencies but also redacting and possibly even destroying official records that do not fit their agenda?
If cynical realpolitik rooted in a desire to look tough on terrorism is not the base motivation, or maybe an actual desire to take things in a totalitarian direction, then heading down this path is a horrifying exercise in double-think and failure to consider secondary and tertiary effects. The EU is certainly trying to have it both ways, on the one hand hammering Google and FaceBook for wielding their monopoly powers to unfair commercial advantage, and on the other hand demanding that they weaponize their Internet gateway status on behalf of the government.
Or maybe this isn’t double-think at all. The most terrifying explanation is that governments are entering a negotiation with these tech behemoths with the idea of sanctioning their exploitation of their monopolies for commercial purposes if only they will consent to having their filtering powers bent to government will, a Faustian bargain if ever there were one.
God save us from a world where skynet is “automating the detection and removal of
terrorist content online” and “prevent[ing] it [from] being uploaded in the first place”. Could that possibly read more creepily? How much ignorance of history, technology, and current events does it take to suggest such a thing seriously? Or do they know exactly how this will end?