Theresa May says social media sites have become a home for ‘terrorists and paedophiles’

Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May
Jack Taylor / getty

  • The prime minister accuses social media companies of providing a platform for extremists.
  • May says terrorists, slave traders and child abusers are using Facebook and other networks with ease.
  • She uses a speech at the World Economic Forum to urge tech investors to pile pressure on firms to act.
  • The PM will call on the “best brains” in tech to create new ways of automatically identifying extremists.

LONDON – Theresa May today warned that new forms of technology are being exploited by people with “malevolent intentions,” and called on technology firms to stop their platforms becoming the “first choice for paedophiles” and terrorists.

“Small platforms can quickly become home for terrorists,” May said, adding that “no-one wants to be known as ‘the terrorists’ platform’ or the first choice app for paedophiles.”

The prime minister used her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday to call on investors to “put pressure” on tech companies to force them to crack down on criminals and terrorists using their networks.

“These companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content,” May said.

“Earlier this month a group of shareholders demanded that Facebook and Twitter disclose more information about sexual harassment, fake news, hate speech and other forms of abuse that take place on the companies’ platforms.

“Investors can make a big difference here by ensuring trust and safety issues are being properly considered. And I urge them to do so.”

The prime minister said that social media companies have a “responsibility” to use their “best brains” to develop new ways of automatically removing extremist content from their platforms.

“These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They must focus their brightest and best on meeting these fundamental social responsibilities,” she said.

May believes the public are growing angry at tech firms’ inability or unwillingness to tackle the abuse of social media.

She said that while many people welcomed the freedom the internet had brought this “hasn’t been completely true for everyone.”

May cited recent research by Edelman, which found that 70% of British people believe that social media companies don’t do enough to stop illegal and extreme material being shared on their platforms.

The study also found that a third of people now do not believe that social media is a force for good in society.

“This loss of trust has been hugely damaging and we all have a responsibility to deal with it,” she said.

Attack of the robots

May also used her speech to warn technology companies that dealing with public concerns about the impact of new innovations in artificial intelligence technology will be the “greatest tests of leadership for our time.”

She said: “It is a test that I am confident we can meet. For right across the long sweep of history from the invention of electricity to advent of factory production, time and again initially disquieting innovations have delivered previously unthinkable advances and we have found the way to make those changes work for all our people.

“As we seize technology so we have to shape it so it works for everyone,” she said.

May’s speech follows the creation of a new anti ‘fake news’ unit by May’s government this week.

The unit, which was announced on Tuesday, will focus on the use of social media to spread “disinformation” and propaganda by hostile foreign powers like Russia.