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France seeks Silicon Valley allies in war on terror

France's Bernard Cazeneuve (centre) meets Google executives at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California.
France's Bernard Cazeneuve (centre) meets Google executives at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Susana Bates, AFP

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve toured the Silicon Valley on Friday to drum up support for the fight against online terrorist propaganda.

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Cazeneuve asked representatives of tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to work directly with French officials during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.

“We emphasized that when an investigation is underway we don't want to go through the usual government to government channels, which can take so long,” the interior minister told reporters at the French Consulate in San Francisco.

His visit comes weeks after terrorist attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Paris kosher store left 20 people dead, including three gunmen.

The attacks by homegrown terrorists rattled France and raised alarm bells about the spread of extreme Islamist propaganda.

Last month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said 1,400 French residents had joined or “wanted to join” jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, such as the Islamic State (IS) group.

IS propaganda

The rapid circulation of gruesome videos of beheadings by the IS group has put pressure on Internet firms to root out Islamist propaganda on the Web.

Representatives of social media websites Twitter and Facebook said they do everything they can to stop material that incites violence, but didn't say whether they would heed the French minister's request for direct cooperation with French authorities.

“We regularly host ministers and other governmental officials from across the world at Facebook, and were happy to welcome Mr. Cazeneuve today,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We work aggressively to ensure that we do not have terrorists or terror groups using the site, and we also remove any content that praises or supports terrorism,” he added.

‘Counter-terror speech’

Online platforms generally ban content that promotes violence or hate, but leave it to users to report abuses.

Cazeneuve said Internet firms had begun responding much more quickly to reports of online terrorist propaganda in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The French minister called on tech companies to block terrorists' ability to use websites and videos to recruit and indoctrinate new followers.

“I told them we can figure this out together, we can come up with counter-terrorism speech and block these sites that are enticing the most vulnerable members of our society to commit terrorist acts,'' he said.

Cazeneuve said Friday’s meeting was a first step towards building a strong relationship between the tech companies and the French government. He said he invited them to a follow-up meeting in Paris in April.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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