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Microsoft Updates Its Policies on Terrorism, Freedom of Expression

Microsoft Updates Its Policies on Terrorism, Freedom of Expression

Apple’s recent problems with the FBI were only a small part of the battle between individual rights of expression and potential security threats. Social media and technology companies alike have been doing their part to prevent the distribution of terroristic content online.

Earlier this year Twitter announced that they had suspended about 125,000 accounts thought related to terrorism since 2015, and in 2014, YouTube removed approximately 14 million extremist videos. In May Microsoft told the United Nations that technology can do more to stop the spread of terrorism on the Internet.

According to Daily Mail, Microsoft vice-president Steven Crown told a Security Council debate that terrorism challenges were strong, but the tech world would consider ways to prevent the “misuse of our technologies to spread violence, to destroy and to kill.”

Now Microsoft has updated its own plans to prevent terrorist propaganda from appearing online. Its terms of use now explicitly say that terroristic material is not allowed, and the company is looking into newer ways to identify the terroristic content of all kinds.

According to, Microsoft is providing funding and tech support to Hany Farid, a computer-science professor at Dartmouth College to help shut down Internet terrorism. Microsoft is also supporting a recent UN initiative dealing with the same cause.

As part of its plans, Microsoft knows that when it defines terroristic content, it doesn’t want to overstep the boundaries of freedom of expression. Microsoft says, according to its blog:06

“There is no universally accepted definition of terrorist content. For purposes of our services, we will consider terrorist content to be material posted by or in support of organizations included on the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List that depicts graphic violence, encourages violent action, endorses a terrorist organization or its acts, or encourages people to join such groups. The UN Sanctions List includes a list of groups that the UN Security Council considers to be terrorist organizations.”

But Microsoft is taking a different approach with its search engine Bing. According to Windows Central, the company only plans to remove links to questionable extremist material from Bing when local laws call for such removal. Microsoft also plans to explore new partnerships with nongovernmental organizations that will show public service announcements and link positive messages to searches for terrorism-related information.

The approach to Bing is in complete contrast to Microsoft’s plan to quickly take down terroristic content reported by users.

Microsoft has its own problems with our government. GeekWire reports the company is suing the Justice Department, asking that a U.S. law allowing the government to keep technology companies from informing customers when investigations call for access to email and cloud information be declared unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, as part of his United Nations address, Crown noted that during the 15 minutes after the Paris attacks that took place in November 2015, 7,500 tweets went out praising the attacks, and two weeks later there had been one million views of videos on the Internet.

Crown observed, “Any technology can be used for good or for evil.”