WASHINGTON, DC - On the same day that social media giants reassured lawmakers on Capitol Hill that they're doing everything possible to quell extremism and violence on their sites, a new report surfaced showing Facebook is still auto-generating pages glorifying ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Despite algorithms touted by Facebook as being effective at removing extremist propaganda from the site, the auto-generated promos of the terrorist pages have been slipping through the cracks. And although the pages cannot serve as a breeding ground for dialogue like other Facebook pages, people can "like" them, thus creating a possible list of stateside sympathizers to overseas terrorists.
Facebook's Monika Bickert did not address this problem turning her testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but a Facebook spokesperson said, "Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors. Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can't comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort."
Facebook, Twitter, and Google were all represented before senators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. George Selim from the Anti-Defamation League was also there, saying research shows domestic extremist violence is trending up. He said white extremists don't have physical training camps, like some other terrorists, they're doing their work online.
"The online environment today amplifies hateful voices worldwide and facilitates the coordination, recruitment and propaganda that fuels the extremism that terrorizes our communities," Selim said.
It was just last month in El Paso, Texas, when we saw social media's influence on a mass shooting. The accused Walmart shooter had posted a manifesto online before carrying out the horrific act.
Earlier this year, the man who attacked a New Zealand mosque wore a body camera to record the carnage, posting the video to Facebook where it was shared to other platforms.
Authorities say online ISIS propaganda also influenced the Pulse Night Club shooter in Orlando.
Senators pushed the social media leaders about what they can do about keeping hate off their sites and forums.
The companies insisted machine technology is effective at flagging extremist or violent content. They also say specialized staffing around the clock makes them more agile at responding to signs of threats or violence in terms of coordinating with authorities. They also pointed to the Global Internet Forum, a social media partnership designed to counter terrorism by sharing information between the companies.
"We're always going to have to evolve to deal with bad actors, but I think on a whole we are doing better job of removing this banned content from our sites before it gets wide exposure of any sort," said Google executive Derek Slater.
"Even more needs to be done and it needs to be better and you have the resources and technological capabilities to do more and be better," fired back Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Others believe the internet is just a symptom, not the problem.
Meanwhile, industry leaders insist their first priority is the safety and security of users.
"The people I've hired onto this team have backgrounds in law enforcement, in academia, in internet security," said Facebook's Monika Bickert, "they've come on board from the outside because this is something they care about."
One senator asked if industry leaders worried about their companies' influence on society, especially children. They responded that there are a lot of supportive and beneficial aspects of their platforms and that the good outweighs the bad.