San Francisco — Obama administration officials are scheduled to meet with major tech executives Friday to discuss terror organizations’ growing exploitation of the Internet for recruitment and planning, and how firms can help federal law enforcement officials better track those communications, according to a person familiar with the meeting who was not authorized to comment publicly on it.
The meeting comes as nations around the world fight a sometimes losing battle against the highly-skilled online outreach of the Islamic State, which has done a remarkable job of using social media to create recruitment and public relations materials to promote its efforts.
Apple, Facebook and Twitter said Thursday they will have representatives at the meeting.
Other companies that have been named as possible attendees but have not confirmed attendance include Google, YouTube, Dropbox and Microsoft.
The meeting will be held in the San Francisco Bay Area, and include officials teleconferencing in from Washington.
A report in the Wall Street Journal said participants from the Obama administration will include Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The meeting is meant to cover two main topics, two sources familiar with the planning who were not authorized to comment publicly said.
One will be a discussion of how tech firms can make it harder for terrorists to leverage the power of the Internet to disseminate their message and use it to gain recruits and motivate them to violence.
The second topic will be how those same companies can help others to create, publish and amplify alternative content that would undercut the Islamic State’s online efforts.
It likely will not deal with the touchy issue of encryption, one of the sources familiar with the planning said.
Since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of U.S. government surveillance on ordinary citizens, technology companies have been beefing up the encryption available to their users, to protect their data and communications from prying eyes.
At the same time, law enforcement officials have been calling for the creation of backdoors, so when necessary they can intercept messages that might help them stop crimes and terrorist attacks.
Efforts to get tech companies to do more about the use terrorists make of social networks and websites to spread their messages have come up before.
Last month, after terrorist-linked shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would require social media companies to alert law enforcement officials when they come across terrorist activity on their platforms.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has called on Silicon Valley to “disrupt” the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts by blocking its sites.
The Islamic State successfully uses many types of media to reach out to possible recruits, say those who follow its efforts.
“They talk about every single topic there is, on every single media out there, in almost every language. They use audio, video, infographics, photos, everything imaginable,” said Veryan Khan, editorial director with the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, a private firm that collects information on terrorism.
These groups also are very good at finding people who feel alienated and alone.
“They create a warm, loving environment so people feel wanted and important,” Khan said. “They give people a place where they belong. That’s the crucial second part, to go along with the rest of the Islamic State’s official, slick propaganda.”