Fight terrorists? What France wants from Google, Twitter, and Facebook
France's interior minister asked Google, Facebook, and Twitter to work directly with French officials during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda.
San Francisco — The French interior minister said he asked Google, Facebook and Twitter to work directly with French officials during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.
"We emphasized that when an investigation is underway we don't want to go through the usual government to government channels, which can take so long," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after a meeting Friday with representatives from the U.S. tech giants.
"It's important to have full cooperation and quick reaction" he added.
Cazeneuve's one-day visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley comes weeks after terrorist attacks in Paris left 20 people dead, including three gunmen.
On Jan. 7, two gunmen killed 12 people and injured 11 more during an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. A third gunman killed a policewoman Jan. 8 and then killed four more people a day later after taking hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Police killed the three gunmen.
Cazeneuve said he called on the tech companies to join in the fight against terrorist propaganda disseminated on the internet and to block terrorists' ability to use websites and videos to recruit and indoctrinate new followers.
Twitter and Facebook spokespeople said they do everything they can to stop material that incites violence but didn't say whether they would heed the minister's request for direct cooperation with French authorities.
"We regularly host ministers and other governmental officials from across the world at Facebook, and were happy to welcome Mr. Cazeneuve today," a Facebook spokesperson said. "We work aggressively to ensure that we do not have terrorists or terror groups using the site, and we also remove any content that praises or supports terrorism."
When asked whether Twitter would work closely with French investigators, a spokesperson said their website outlines the guidelines for law enforcement to request information.
"We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit direct, specific threats of violence against others," the spokesperson wrote in an email.
An email to Google requesting comment was not immediately answered.
The pace of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State and other extremist groups has not slowed and at least 3,400 come from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, U.S. intelligence officials say.
France has some of the highest numbers of youths in Europe who travel abroad for terrorist training – some 1,000 people, with the majority between 18 and 29 years old. According to a report by the EU Institute for Security Studies, 89 percent of a similarly aged group of “digital natives” are active online in the EU. The group estimates that 70 percent of these young people use social networks on a daily basis, and spend an average of more than 19 hours per week online.
France also recently launched a new website stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr, which provides information about radicalization and jihad propaganda, and links to a two-minute video on the horrifying reality of joining the ranks of a terrorist group. The video's menacing music and graphic images are intended to shock.
"I told them we can figure this out together, we can come up with counter-terrorism speech and block these sites that are enticing the most vulnerable members of our society to commit terrorist acts," he said.
France also is pushing to treat jihadi material on the Internet like child porn, a task that before the attacks in Paris was getting scant traction but now seems to have caught the attention of Europe's top security officials.
Cazeneuve said the meeting Friday is a first step in building a strong relationship between the tech companies and the French government. He said he invited them to go to Paris in April to continue the conversation.