Company transparency reports are a good way for the tech industry to demonstrate to governments and the wider public how they moderate content on their platforms. Transparency reports may also shed light on whether organisations abuse content takedown mechanisms other than for counter-terrorism and respond to legitimate concerns that users and civil society may have.
Tech Against Terrorism see three main benefits of transparency reporting: it reinforces company values while easing concerns for users’ privacy, it raises awareness of the extent of government requests, thus making it easier to hold governments accountable for potential infringements, and it contributes to the wider debate on how content can be regulated without solely resorting to removal.
Tech Against Terrorism’s research shows that approximately 68 tech companies currently produce transparency reports. Predominantly, these reports present data on copyright takedown requests, government requests for user data, and content takedown requests. Most commonly, companies report on government requests for content removal, but less commonly report on content taken down for “promotion of violent extremism.” Twitter was the first company to do this in 2017. This demonstrates that both big and small companies are working out how to be more transparent in this area while restricting information that is legally required to be unknown from public view.
We also made the following observations about company transparency reporting. Firstly, there is a lack of consistency between different companies’ reports on their accounting processes. The lack of a universally approved definition of terrorism further muddies how companies moderate certain content. Secondly, few companies publish data on content removed for violation of terms of service and/or “promotion of terrorism.” Lastly, while the tech industry has become more transparent, few governments disclose information of their dealings with tech companies.
As part of Tech Against Terrorism’s work to provide operational tools for tech companies to help them prevent their platforms from being exploited by terrorists, we have outlined recommendations for startups and small to medium sized companies on how to produce transparency reporting. These recommendations can be found in the full version of this report in our Knowledge Sharing Platform, which companies can register for here.