G7 puts pressure on internet firms to remove extremist content

TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) - The world’s seven major industrialized nations on Friday ramped up pressure on internet service providers and social media to increase efforts to purge extremist content, four days after an Islamist suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester.

Western governments have accused major internet companies of not doing enough to stop groups such as Islamic State promoting violence on social media or taking more responsibility for the impact of material posted on their sites.

After this week’s attacks in the northern English city of Manchester, the Group of Seven - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - toughened a final statement to fight terrorism, honing in on the role of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, sometimes referred to generally in Europe using the acronym Gafa.

“We will combat the misuse of the Internet by terrorists. While being one of the most important technological achievements in the last decades, the Internet has also proven to be a powerful tool for terrorist purposes,” said the joint statement signed by the leaders meeting in Sicily.

“The G7 calls for Communication Service Providers and social media companies to substantially increase their efforts to address terrorist content,” it said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, who during his election campaign had called for tougher action on internet firms, insisted on strengthening language on the issue, diplomats said.

“In particular, I want to see them report this vile content to the authorities and block the users who spread it,” May told reporters.

The statement stopped short of calling for measures to penalize firms that failed to meet the necessary requirements, however.

“The Gafas and the industry need to act quickly to detect and destroy content that calls for terrorism, hatred and radicalization,” a senior French diplomat said.

“We are still in the framework of existing laws, but there has never been as much pressure from the G7 countries on these companies to ensure that this content is divulged and destroyed. We’re increasing that pressure,” he said.

Reporting by Steve Scherer, John Irish and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Sonya Hepinstall