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How Big Tech Can Fight White Supremacist Terrorism

It Has the Tools—It Just Needs to Use Them

Mourners at a vigil for the shooting victims in El Paso, August 2019 Callaghan O'Hare / Reuters

On the morning of August 3, Patrick Crusius uploaded a 2,300-word manifesto to 8chan, an online forum popular with white nationalists. Within seconds, byte-sized packets bearing the anti-immigrant screed would cross borders the world over, wending their way from El Paso, Texas, to the Philippines, where 8chan is based. News of what Crusius did next would travel even wider. Armed with an AK-47, the recent college dropout stormed a Walmart not far from the Mexican border, killing 22 and wounding as many more. His self-professed goal: to kill as many Mexicans as possible.

The carnage in El Paso, coupled with a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that night, prompted renewed debate over how to respond to online hate. As political pressure mounted, U.S. President Donald Trump borrowed a page from the Obama playbook and convened a “tech summit” on extremism. On August 9, White House officials hosted representatives from major technology companies—Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and others—and discussed potential ways of disrupting extremist recruitment and coordination online.

The summit will likely be remembered as yet another missed opportunity. Trump’s administration may be more willing than Obama’s to challenge the technology sector, but it has opted to fight the wrong battle, and its efforts risk making the problem worse. Consider the administration’s reported plan to grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broad new authority to regulate social media companies. The authority would not help the FCC force technology companies to more aggressively police their platforms for extremist accounts and content. Rather, the FCC, by virtue of an executive order called Protecting Americans from Online Censorship, would seek to ensure that social media companies aren’t “biased” against conservatives. With Trump’s rhetoric and language often indistinguishable from that of avowed white nationalists, such a measure would make it more difficult for technology companies to counter extremism online.

As the Trump administration dithers, the threat only continues to grow. The horrific attack in El Paso was the latest

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