Facebook uses AI to flag posts believed to be tied to terrorist groups

Facebook reveals its anti-ISIS AI: System gives posts a ‘terror score’ to flag those promoting banned organizations

  • Facebook pulled 3M pieces of terrorist content from its site in the third quarter
  • Firm said machine learning tools have helped remove posts faster than before
  • AI gives posts a score on how likely it is to violate its counterrorism policies
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Facebook said it’s been more successful at removing terrorist content from its platform – owed in large part to its advanced AI tools. 

The social media giant said on Thursday it took down 3 million pieces of terrorist content from its site in the third quarter, down from 9.4 million pieces in the second quarter. 

It said new machine learning tools have helped it pull down posts that may signal support for ISIS or al-Qaeda faster than before. 

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The social media giant said on Thursday it took down 3 million pieces of terrorist content from its site in the third quarter, down from 9.4 million pieces in the second quarter 

Facebook said the AI gives each post a score showing how likely it is to violate the firm’s counterterrorism policies, which allows its human reviewers to prioritize which posts need attention first. 

Facebook has also reduced the median time between when a user first reports a terrorist post and when it takes it down. 

The firm has focused its approach toward removing terrorist content before it’s viewed by a wide audience. 

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In the third quarter, that median time was 18 hours, which is a significant decrease from 43 hours in the first quarter and 22 hours in the second quarter. 

‘In both Q2 and Q3 we found more than 99% of the ISIS and al-Qaeda content ultimately removed ourselves, before it was reported by anyone in our community,’ Monika Bickert, Facebook’s global head of policy, and Brian Fishman, Facebook’s head of counterterrorism policy, wrote in a blog post.

The firm says it now uses machine learning to spot posts that may signal support for these terrorist groups. 


Facebook has also reduced the median time between when a user first reports a terrorist post and when it takes it down. In the third quarter, that median time was 18 hours, which is a significant decrease from 43 hours in the first quarter and 22 hours in the second quarter

In some cases, Facebook automatically removes posts that are given a ‘very high’ score. 

‘We still rely on specialized reviewers to evaluate most posts, and only immediately remove posts when the tool’s confidence level is high enough that its “decision” indicates it will be more accurate than our human reviewers,’ Bickert and Fishman explained. 

What’s more, Facebook’s algorithms can now understand roughly 19 different languages. 

Some of the 3 million posts identified were old, but Facebook said it was able to pull 2.3 million brand new posts in the third quarter. 

The firm says it will continue to work hard to remove terrorist content. 

‘[We] should not view this as a problem that can be “solved” and set aside, even in the most optimistic scenarios,’ Bickert and Fishman said. 

‘We can reduce the presence of terrorism on mainstream social platforms, but eliminating it completely requires addressing the people and organizations that generate this material in the real-world.’     

WHAT DO FACEBOOK’S GUIDELINES FOR CONTENT SAY?

Facebook has disclosed its rules and guidelines for deciding what its 2.2 billion users can post on the social network. 

The full guidelines can be read here. Below is a summary of what they say: 

1. Credible violence

Facebook says it considers the language, context and details in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety.

2. Dangerous individuals and organisations

Facebook does not allow any organizations or individuals that are engaged in terrorist, organized hate, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, organized violence or criminal activity.

3. Promoting or publicising crime

Facebook says it prohibit people from promoting or publicizing violent crime, theft, and/or fraud. It does not allow people to depict criminal activity or admit to crimes they or their associates have committed. 

4. Coordinating harm

The social network says people can draw attention to harmful activity that they may witness or experience as long as they do not advocate for or coordinate harm. 

5. Regulated goods

The site prohibits attempts topurchase, sell, or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana as well as firearms. 

6. Suicide and self-injury

The rules for ‘credible violence’ apply for suicide and self-injury. 

7. Child nudity and sexual exploitation of children

Facebook does not allow content that sexually exploits or endangers children. When it becomes aware of apparent child exploitation, we report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

8. Sexual exploitation of adults

The site removes images that depict incidents of sexual violence and intimate images shared without permission from the people pictured.

9. Bullying

Facebook removes content that purposefully targets private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them.

10. Harassment

Facebook’s harassment policy applies to both public and private individuals.

It says that context and intent matter, and that the site will allow people to share and re-share posts if it is clear that something was shared in order to condemn or draw attention to harassment.  

11. Privacy breaches and image privacy rights

Users should not post personal or confidential information about others without first getting their consent, says Facebook. 

12. Hate speech

Facebook does not allow hate speech on Facebook because it says it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence. 

13. Graphic violence

Facebook will remove content that glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering or humiliation of others.

It will, however, allow graphic content (with some limitations) to help people raise awareness about issues.

14. Adult nudity and sexual activity

The site restricts the display of nudity or sexual activity.

It will also default to removing sexual imagery to prevent the sharing of non-consensual or underage content.

15. Cruel and insensitive

Facebook says it has higher expectations for content that defined as cruel and insensitive.

It defines this as content that targets victims of serious physical or emotional harm. 

16. Spam

Facebook is trying to prevent false advertising, fraud and security breaches.

It does not allow people to use misleading or inaccurate information to artificially collect likes, followers or shares. 

17. Misrepresentation

Facebook will require people to connect on Facebook using the name that they go by in everyday life.

18. False news

Facebook says that there is also a fine line between false news and satire or opinion. 

For these reasons, it won’t remove false news from Facebook, but, instead, significantly reduce its distribution by showing it lower in News Feed.

19. Memorialisation

Facebook will memorialise accounts of people who have died by adding “Remembering” above the name on the person’s profile. 

The site will not remove, update or change anything about the profile or the account. 

20. Intellectual property

Facebook users own all of the content and information that they post on Facebook, and have control over how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. 

21. User requests

Facebook say they will comply with:

  • User requests for removal of their own account
  • Requests for removal of a deceased user’s account from a verified immediate family member or executor
  • Requests for removal of an incapacitated user’s account from an authorised representative

22. Additional protection of minors

Facebook complies with:

  • User requests for removal of an underage account
  • Government requests for removal of child abuse imagery depicting, for example:
  • Beating by an adult
  • Strangling or suffocating by an adult
  • Legal guardian requests for removal of attacks on unintentionally famous minors

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