Google, Facebook to discuss online extremism with EU officials

The commission wants to curb social media recruiting for radical Islamist groups

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Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft representatives will discuss concerns about online radicalization and jihadist propaganda with EU officials at an informal dinner today.

The dinner attendees will discuss challenges posed by terrorists' use of the Internet and possible responses, the European Commission said. They will also discuss tools and techniques to respond to terrorist online activities, with particular regard to the development of specific "counter-narrative initiatives," which are attempts to respond to the ideology of militant groups, commission spokesman Michele Cercone said.

The tech companies will meet commission representatives and ministers of the 28 EU member states in Luxembourg.

"The Internet and social media play a profoundly positive role in our lives and societies. However, they are also used by violent extremists to advance their aims, whether through engagement, propaganda, radicalization or recruitment," Cercone said. The commission is particularly concerned about the recruiting of EU citizens to fight for radical Islamist groups in the Middle East, the so-called foreign fighters, as well as calls for 'electronic Jihad' that the EU is facing, he said.

The Internet is largely operated by private companies, and together with civil society, they have the best Internet expertise, he said, adding that conversely, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services possess the best knowledge about terrorist activities. "Public-private dialogue is therefore an essential tool to discuss issues of common interest," he added.

It is the first time such a meeting has taken place, and no new measures are on the table, according to Cercone. The objective is to build a bridge between politicians and the industry so that more meetings can take place in the future, he said.

A Google spokesman said the company would attend the dinner but declined to comment on its role or positions. The other invitees, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One notable party missing at the dinner table, as noted by the BBC, is Ask.fm, which was recently bought in August by Ask.com. According to reports, Ask.fm has frequently been used by fighters who joined extremist groups to answer questions about joining those groups.

They could, however, be invited in the future. "This is not a closed group, this time we have invited a few, in the future more or different companies can be invited," Cercone said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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