Facebook is partnering up with London police to develop technology to identify terror attacks

Neil Basu, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner for Counter Terrorism.
Neil Basu, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner for Counter Terrorism.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In a world where terrorists plan, explain, and broadcast their attacks on social media, tech platforms are under increasing pressure to do something about it.

The London Metropolitan Police will provide Facebook with body-camera footage from its training programs so that the company can develop technology to better detect video of live shootings and immediately take it down, the two announced Sept. 17.

“This partnership with the [Metropolitan] Police will help train our AI systems with the volume of data needed to identify these incidents,” Stephanie McCourt, Facebook’s law enforcement liaison, said in a release from the police force.

Facebook was criticized by users and governments around the world after a shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, broadcast is his deadly attack on Facebook, where it was shared thousands of times.

In a release announcing its new anti-terrorism efforts, Facebook said Christchurch attack didn’t trigger its automated detection systems because the company didn’t have enough first-person footage of similar events to train its machine-learning algorithms.

Facebook is also expanding the definition of terrorism in its policies, to include “attempts at violence, particularly when directed toward civilians with the the intent to coerce and intimidate.”

The announcement also hints at something that feels more like the movie Minority Report than real life: the software Facebook is developing might help stop attacks before they’re in full swing.

“The technology Facebook is seeking to create could help identify firearms attacks in their early stages and potentially assist police across the world in their response to such incidents,” Neil Basu, assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Metropolitan Police, said in the release.

The London police will also provide the footage to other tech companies for them to build their own solutions. And Facebook will be working with US law enforcement as well, but did not disclose which agencies.

While it’s positive that large platforms like Facebook are taking steps to eliminate terrorist content, experts emphasize that extremists frequently inhabit and are radicalized on smaller sites.