Microsoft Cracking Down on Terrorists Content

Nancy Anderson
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Following public concern over the connection between terrorist attacks and social media content, Microsoft has amended its terms of use to ban terrorist content on all of its hosted consumer services. The goal is to reduce recruiting and fundraising by terrorist groups over the internet. Microsoft also plans to display public service announcements offering alternatives to violence in response to some search queries for terrorist-related terms.

Details of the Ban

Microsoft defines terrorist content to include content posted by or in support of terrorist groups that are listed on the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List. This content also shows or encourages violence, specifically endorse a terrorist organization or its acts, or recruit for a terrorist group.

Microsoft plans on relying on an online reporting tool to discover questionable content for removal. The reporting tool is available to governments, concerned citizens and organizations wishing to report suspected terrorist content.

The ban does not extend directly to Microsoft's Bing search engine, which will remain unbiased in its results, with links only being taken down only if they violate local laws.

Background Information

Terrorist groups' use of social media has been controversial practically since the first social media existed. Groups such as the Islamic State in Syria use popular websites to recruit new members, often through cloaked statements and shorthand. They also use the sites for internal communication, making it easier for members to plan attacks and stay organized at a distance.

The Obama administration has encouraged tech companies to work to remove terrorist content. Many tech giants, including Twitter and Facebook, have made changes to limit the use of their services by terrorists. Microsoft's May 2016 announcement places it in the group of tech companies looking for ways to minimize the amount of terrorist content online.

Censorship Concerns

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are worried that new policies banning terrorist content might promote harmful censorship in the long term. The ACLU feels that open dialogue is the best way to handle difficult topics online, including terrorist issues. Defining terrorist content is not always easy, and some content might be wrongly taken down. The ACLU also has concerns that forcing terrorist communications further underground might lead to less dialogue and more terrorist acts. It could also limit opportunities for the government to monitor the communications of terrorist organizations.

Forging New Partnerships

As part of its anti-terrorist agenda, Microsoft is partnering with nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to come up with better ways to stop terrorist activity. This includes developing techniques for quickly discovering terrorist content to make it more difficult for terrorist organizations to replicate sites as soon as they are taken down. Microsoft is also supplying funding for programs to help young internet users tell the difference between factual content and problematic content, such as hate speech or terrorist propaganda.

With international concerns about terrorism rising, technology companies need to be ready to develop policies to handle terrorist issues without hindering free speech. Microsoft's multifaceted approach, including changes to its terms of use banning terrorist content and working with other organizations to find new solutions, is one way to handle concerns about violence while also working to ensure future policies meet the needs of all internet users.

Photo courtesy of winnond at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Nick thanks for your great comment and for letting us know about the Microsoft website.

  • Nick T.
    Nick T.

    This is great! But what is going to be done with the phishing? It is clear to me when a person calls you on your phone and tells you that they are from Windows Tech Support and they must talk to the owner of the Windows computer immediately that they are using older technology (telephones) to practice cyber-terrorism. When they mention "Windows computer" they are, in fact, abusing the good name of a Microsoft product.
    Who do we report these unsolicited phone calls to? If Microsoft created a website where people can log these calls (since everyone has caller id), then Microsoft can take all of this information and provide the necessary information to the FBI to crack down on these cyber terrorists.

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