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White House invites tech companies to discuss online extremism after shootings

The White House has invited major tech companies to discuss the threat of violent extremism on online platforms on Friday, coming in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend that left more than 30 people dead.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told the Washington Post that the gathering would include “senior administration officials along with representatives of a range of companies.” He did not say which tech companies received an invitation. 

The effort to curb violent threats of extremism comes after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The El Paso shooter posted a racist manifesto against Hispanic immigrants online just minutes before he began shooting inside a Walmart. 

President Donald Trump responded to the shootings on Monday during a press conference and said pointed to social media as a possibility to “detect mass shooters before they strike.” 

“I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,” he said. 

The President’s hope in using social media to predict mass shootings before they happen is a grey area, since platforms like Facebook and Twitter would have to sift through the personal data of billions of users in order to find any real threats. Even then, there’s a difference between someone posting a concrete violent threat and algorithms identifying any users who could possibly be a future shooter.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter are continually updating their platforms to curb hate speech and violence. Facebook banned white nationalism content in the spring, and Twitter banned hate speech against religious groups last month. 

Still, that doesn’t stop hate speech or violence from reaching the darker areas of the web, like the image board 8chan, which has been linked to the posting of the El Paso shooter’s “manifesto.” Many service providers for 8chan, including Cloudfare, have announced that they will no longer host the site. The New York Times called the site a “megaphone for mass shooters,” since at least three mass shooters this year have announced themselves on 8chan. 

Digital Trends reached out to Facebook and Google for comment and to see if they have been invited to the White House meeting, but we have not yet received a response. A Twitter spokesperson told Digital Trends declined to comment on the potential meeting.

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