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MP claims social media firms 'don't give a damn' and calls platforms 'a cesspit'

(left to right) Katy Minshall, Head of UK Government, Public Policy & Philanthropy at Twitter, Neil Potts, Public Policy Director at Facebook, and Marco Pancini, Director of Public Policy at YouTube, giving evidence to the Home Affaiirs Select Committee at the House of Commons, London, on the subject of hate crime and its violent consequences. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Photo credit should read: PA Wire

By Margaret Davis, Press Association Crime Correspondent

Social media sites are "a cesspit" and systems to monitor offensive content are not working, an MP has claimed.

During tetchy exchanges, Stephen Doughty questioned representatives of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter about extreme right-wing content that can be found "in seconds".

At a hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee focusing on hate crime, Mr Doughty said: "Your systems are simply not working and, quite frankly, it's a cesspit. It feels like your companies really don't give a damn.

"You give a lot of words, you give a lot of rhetoric, you don't actually take action."

He highlighted neo-Nazi material from well-known outlets that was easily found on all three sites, and said he had managed to find footage of the March terrorist attack in New Zealand in seconds.

The Labour MP told the trio: "You're all three of you not doing your jobs."

Neil Potts, from Facebook, stressed that the network has 2.7 billion users and said it does "an extremely good job" in taking material down.

Katy Minshall, representing Twitter, said safety is the company's "top priority" and it will continue to invest in tools that identify users who break rules.

YouTube's Marco Pancini said the company is working with non-governmental organisations in 27 European countries to improve detection of offensive content.

The committee heard that supporters of the New Zealand attacker had deliberately uploaded altered versions of the footage to avoid detection by the systems designed to identify offensive and illegal content.

Mr Pancini said that, of the 8.7 million pieces of content taken down from YouTube in the last quarter of last year, 71% were flagged by machine, and, of those, 73% were removed with no views.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald said algorithms used by the site led to innocent users searching for politics, news and football being directed towards right-wing content.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper also said Tommy Robinson videos were recommended to her on YouTube after she searched for a well-known right-wing US YouTuber.

She said that increasingly extreme material was recommended to her as she used the platform.

Ms Cooper told Mr Pancini: "The algorithms that you profit from are being used to poison debate."

He told her: "There is no intention from our side to promote speech that is an abuse of our policies.

"We are making product changes in order to make sure that when a user is searching for breaking news or for political speech, the results they are going to get is an authoritative source."

Ms Cooper went on to highlight a closed Facebook group with 30,000 members, in which some users have said that she and her family should be shot.

"It describes itself as a direct action group. It makes a reference to me and my family and says 'Just shoot them, criminals'.

"There's another reference to somebody else saying they should be shot, and somebody else saying 'Kill them all, every f****** one, military coup, national socialism year one, I don't care as long as they are eradicated'."

She accused Facebook of providing "safe places to hide for individuals and organisations who spread hate".

Mr Potts said action would be taken to remove the users and with police if necessary.

Finishing the evidence session, Ms Cooper told the witnesses: "We have taken evidence from your representatives several times over several years and we feel like we are raising the same issues again and again.

"We recognise you have done some additional work but we are coming up time and again with so many examples of where you are failing - where you may be being gamed by extremists, or where you are effectively providing a platform for extremism.

"You are enabling extremism on your platforms."

She cited the case of Finsbury Park terrorist Darren Osbourne, who became radicalised after viewing extreme right-wing material online, including speeches by former EDL leader Tommy Robinson and Britain First.

"There is evidence that the police and law enforcement agencies are giving us of radicalisation being done online that leads to people being hurt and people being killed," Ms Cooper said.

"And yet you are continuing to provide platforms for this extremism, you are continuing to show actually that you are not keeping up with it, and, frankly, in the case of YouTube, you are continuing to promote it."

Pic by Press Association