How can Google tackle the scourge of Isis?

Google talk Isis, censorship and the media at Cannes Lions Festival 2015

This week, Google’s Chief Legal Officer (David Drummond) and Director Policy Strategy (Victoria Grand) spoke at the Cannes Lions Festival on the issue of what can be done by them and their competitors to deal with extremist groups that use social media.

It was a bold topic to take on and all credit to Google for doing so. Those of us in the audience were taken through the varying stages of Google’s decision-making process and its unshakeable desire to promote access to information, with a real focus on Google-owned YouTube.

With 2bn out of the world’s 7bn population already online and the next 5bn coming soon, Google was critical of those governments which had blocked its services – China, Turkey, Pakistan – and sought to stress the public interest benefits of what it does as a ‘force for good’, from crop management information for African farmers, through to the Google Art Project, promoting HD access to artworks.

The focus turned to YouTube and how Google made its decisions to take down – or not take down – content, in its role as a sort of Supreme Court of the Internet. The audience was invited to use red/green paddles to votes on whether it would have taken down or left up content on YouTube. For example, as a general rules Nudity is not allowed on YouTube but that poliy has been relaxed for some art projects and for appropriate health related content.

And conflict zone videos? There is no denying that these have grown significantly but Google has been careful not to allow full terror videos to reside on the site and takes the view that even the news context does not vitiate this content. So how to tackle Isis? Drown it out with better content, says Google, citing the It Gets Better Project as a model that has worked, as well as comedy and satire. Google is now working with deradicalisation NGOs and YouTube stars to promulgate more positive messages and alternatives to Isis.

So well done to Google for quite a bold session, even though one always senses that there is a pleading subtext of ‘we’re not as bad as you think we are’.