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Google warns of “viral moment” for ISIS on social media

Google executives, citing “two or three” beheadings posted to YouTube each week, told an audience in France that terrorist propaganda is spreading at an alarming rate, and called for counter messages to refute it.

Speaking on Wednesday at an advertising summit in Cannes, Google’s head lawyer David Drummond and policy director Victoria Grand said that ISIS is taking decade-old propaganda advice from Osama Bin Laden and “taking it to another level using social media.”

In their remarks, reported by the Guardian, the Google executives (GOOG)also noted that ISIS “communities” are taking on an outsized influence in social media in the absence of concerted efforts to contradict them. Here is part of what they said:

Isis is having a viral moment on social media and the countervailing viewpoints are nowhere near strong enough to oppose them. Isis, in particular, has been putting up footage that is inhuman and atrocious. We are still seeing about two or three of these beheadings each week …

The power of community is not lost on Isis and they are using it to great effect. Right now the voice of that community is a lot larger than ours, a lot louder, there’s more out there on the web. When I say ours, I mean all of us, all of us in the room today.

The challenge for us is to strike this balance between allowing people to be educated about the dangers and the violence of this group. But not allowing ourselves to become a distribution channel for this horrible, but very newsworthy, terrorist propaganda.

The Google executives also acknowledged the daily dilemmas they confront in deciding when the news value of a disturbing video outweighs the impulse to pull it down. Examples include footage of police shootings, terrorist executions or teenage pranks that can cause injury.

Drummond, the lawyer, has recently been at the forefront of a global debate over how to apply free speech principles on the internet. In the challenge of opposing ISIS, however, Google has not offered much in the way of specifics.

Meanwhile, European authorities have created a new police unit whose goal is to scour social media for ISIS accounts and remove them within two hours. And as the New York Times reported last month, self-appointed vigilantes are also taking to social media to fight ISIS online.