Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity

Greg Nash

Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that could help reduce the amount of terrorist content circulating across the country’s top social media platforms.

The Raising the Bar Act would create a government-backed program to help tech companies eliminate the scourge of posts, images and videos from terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda on their social networks. 

{mosads}”The social media companies have established standards for themselves that everybody agrees on for terrorist content … it should have no place on their platforms,” Rose told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday. “This bill is about establishing a public-private partnership that holds the social media companies to their own standards.” 

The legislation would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate a lead institution — such as a research center or think tank — to administer a voluntary exercise program that would score how well tech companies handle terrorist content. The program, run by a team of terrorism and social media experts, would assess how well companies including Facebook and Twitter are adhering to their own anti-terrorism policies.   

During each exercise, which would happen several times per year, the team of experts would identify and report terrorist content to the companies. They would then work up a report assessing how long it took for the tech platforms to take down those flagged posts. The institution designated to run the exercise would then rate the companies’ performances and offer them insight into how they can improve. 

Rose’s legislation would also require the institution in charge of the program to brief Congress on its findings. 

The bill is based on a similar program in the European Union, which assesses “hate speech” more broadly. Rose said his bill is more narrowly focused on terrorist content because most efforts to address online hate speech in the U.S. run directly into First Amendment issues.

As of Wednesday morning, the Raising the Bar Act had gathered three Democratic co-sponsors: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Rep. Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), and Rep. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.). It has received endorsements from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Counter Extremism Project, two of the top players in addressing online extremism.

Rose, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he’s still working to bring Republicans on board. And he described his conversations with the top social media companies as ongoing.

“To date, they are open to further discussions,” Rose said. “They are not opposed to the bill.” 

The exercise program established by Rose’s bill would be voluntary, meaning YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others would have to participate in an external audit willingly — a rare move for companies that typically prefer to control their own messaging. But Rose said he would “be eager to see the public reaction to one of these major technology firms not wanting to do everything possible via public-private partnership to get terrorist content off their platforms.” 

Last month, the Homeland Security panel advanced a separate bill aimed at combating extremist content online more broadly, marking the first legislative effort since a string of mass shootings this year were tied to shooters with radical online footprints. That bill — the National Commission on Online Platforms and Homeland Security Act, introduced by Thompson — would create a 12-member bipartisan commission of experts to research how online extremism has led to “targeted mass-casualty violence.” Even that legislation faced pushback from civil liberties groups which questioned whether it could infringe on First Amendment rights. 

Rose said he doesn’t mind if some groups oppose his effort.

“If any group wants to argue in favor of terrorists being allowed to spread their messaging on social media platforms, I proudly stand in opposition to them,” Rose said. “I wear that like a badge.”

Tags Bennie Thompson Kathleen Rice Max Rose Yvette Clarke

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