The use of Google’s YouTube as a destination from which to spread jihadi terrorist propaganda online is dramatically declining, according to an intelligence group that tracks online extremism.
New analysis of web links, conducted by the Site Intelligence Group, suggests Islamic State and al-Qaeda continue to value the file-hosting services of Dropbox Inc., Google Drive, and Google Photos, however, and remain among the top-used services to store battle footage, documentary-style productions, and video speeches.
Once uploaded, links to this content are typically disseminated on social media platforms like Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Telegram Messenger to reach as wide an audience as possible.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any activity on our platform that promotes terrorism," a Dropbox spokesman said, adding the company removes such material when it finds it, and cooperates with law enforcement to support investigations into its origin.
Will McCants, Google’s lead on counter-extremism, said he was "pleased to see this report detail the strong progress made on YouTube in tackling terrorist content." He said Google was using the latest advances in machine learning to stamp out terrorist content across all its services. "There’s more to do, but we’re laser-focused on getting this right across the board.”
The report by Site, which analyzed more than 27,000 web links between April 1 and August 31 this year, comes as the European Union pushes for new legislation to force internet companies to wipe terror content from their services within an hour of being notified of it. They may face fines if they fail to do so.
Site’s analysis echoes research published by New York-based Flashpoint in May, which suggested Islamic State had been more frequently utilizing preserved versions of web pages on archival websites and online locker services.
Big tech platforms have made big strides in recent months in their efforts to tackle terror content, in large part thanks to automated tools that help to rapidly identify bad content. Those efforts have resulted in "a dramatic shift away from YouTube" by the terror groups, according to Site, leading the groups to increase reliance on other Google services.
The jihadi groups seek to stay a step ahead of content deletions by proliferating their propaganda across a wide variety of file-hosting platforms. The trend highlights the game of whack-a-mole that web firms and authorities must play in order to keep on top of the terror groups’ activities online.
"These organizations are extremely adaptable," said Site director Rita Katz. "When one platform takes initiative to remove content, they have scores of other hosts to exploit."