While most tech companies are reluctant to appear to be restricting free speech, Microsoft has made the decision to effectively ban content on its services that advocate and support terrorism or groups considered to be terrorist organizations.
Microsoft believes that “terrorism” is different
While it’s true that companies are frowned upon when it appears that they are restricting speech, this just doesn’t happen to be the case when it’s terrorist content that is being taken down by Facebook, Twitter, Google and others.
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It’s for this reason that Microsoft explained it’s new policies and terms of service in a recent blog post:
“We believe it’s important that we ground our approach to this critical issue in central principles and values. We have a responsibility to run our various Internet services so that they are a tool to empower people, not to contribute, however indirectly, to terrible acts. We also have a responsibility to run our services in a way that respects timeless values such as privacy, freedom of expression and the right to access information. We’ve therefore carefully considered how to address terrorist content that may appear on our services without sacrificing the fundamental rights we all hold dear,” the statement read.
While Apple clearly doesn’t support terrorism and would sooner not have been embroiled in a scandal regarding an iPhone belonging to one of the two shooters in San Bernandino, Calif., the company was unwilling to give the FBI the “keys to the kingdom” and provide a way around the unlock of the iPhone. Ultimately, the FBI simply paid someone else to do it.
In addition to changes in policy Microsoft also rolled out an online tool for users to report content that they believe supports or promotes terrorism directly to the company for review.
But what is terrorist content?
While Hamas, for example, is the elected leadership party in Gaza, it’s still considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations and will likely find itself shuttered to support on Microsoft products.
“For purposes of our services, we will consider terrorist content to be material posted by or in support of organizations included on the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List that depicts graphic violence, encourages violent action, endorses a terrorist organization or its acts, or encourages people to join such groups. The U.N. Sanctions List includes a list of groups that the U.N. Security Council considers to be terrorist organizations,” Microsoft explains.
Given the search dominance of Google, it’s easy to forget that some people actually use Microsoft’s Bing for search and Microsoft will be “softening” results and giving priority listing to “nicer” results but won’t be accused of policing by removing links.
“Terrorism is one of the truly urgent issues of our time. We are committed to doing our part to help address the use of technology to promote it or to recruit to its causes. As we look at additional measures we can take, our actions will always be consistent with the rule of law and with our belief in our users’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information. We will continue to work closely and transparently with a wide range of organizations to build on and strengthen these efforts, and we look forward to joining additional initiatives that involve organizations from both the public and private sectors in the coming months,” Microsoft continued in its blog post which explains the changes in policy.