US to form new task force to fight online militant propaganda

White House Forms New Task Force To Combat ISIS Propaganda
White House Forms New Task Force To Combat ISIS Propaganda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Obama administration is forming a new task force dedicated to improving its ability to counter the use of social media and online propaganda by the Islamic State and other militant groups, the White House said on Friday.

The new group will be led by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and will involve other federal and local agencies.

Announcement of the new Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, came as leading executives from U.S. technology companies, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, met on Friday with senior national security officials to discuss how to better thwart violent extremists' use of the Internet.

ISIS Suspects by State in the United States InsideGov

President Barack Obama is working to reassure the public that his administration is succeeding in its fight against Islamic State in the wake of recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Apple's Cook will attend the 90-minute huddle in San Jose, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo and LinkedIn are also planning to send senior executives, and other leading firms have been invited.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that he did not expect any "breakthrough announcements or agreements to emerge" from the talks.

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The dialogue will focus on how to combat the use of social media by the Islamic State to "recruit, radicalize and mobilize" its followers, according to an agenda circulated among participants. It will also cover how technology can be used to better disrupt paths to violence and identify recruitment patterns, in addition to creating "alternative content" that can "undercut" Islamic State.

Law enforcement's struggles to crack encrypted communications used by criminal suspects is also on the agenda but is not expected to be a central focus, sources said.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will lead the meeting, and other invited officials include Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.

Islamic State has used the Internet in unprecedented ways to spread its message of violent jihad. A 2015 Brookings report found that the militant group had operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts during a three-month period in 2014.

Several social media companies have updated their terms of service within the last 18 months to take a tougher stance against content that can incite violence, but some are reluctant to appear too cooperative with the government because of privacy and commercial concerns.

Twitter, long maligned for being less cooperative than other companies such as Facebook, updated its policies last week to explicitly prohibit "hateful conduct."

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday the cooperation between technology companies and law enforcement is critical.

"We want these companies to be globally successful, and need their help in the fight against terror," he said.

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Originally published