“Online radicalization was a really tough issue when we were dealing with foreign terrorist threats, and companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were very slow to that game,” Townsend said.
It remains a big challenge today, whether terrorist groups are using social media platforms to spread their views or radicalize individuals, or foreign actors are using them to sow division in American political discourse. In addressing those threats, Sherwood-Randall said, robust public-private partnerships are crucial, especially with tech companies.
“The federal government cannot do this work alone. We need private sector partners to help secure our nation, whether dealing with threats to our energy grid or threats that emanate online,” she said. “I see it as a two-way street. We can provide information and help these companies recognize what we see and what they can do to ensure their platforms are not exploited in a way that is inconsistent with the standards and values they ascribe to.”
At the same time, she said, both the government and private companies must balance values of free speech and free expression.
“We cherish, prize and celebrate free speech and free expression of views, but it’s when that free expression becomes violence,” and threatens the lives of citizens or the infrastructure of our country, that it becomes terrorism, she said.
Universities, she said, also have a role to play, and her team is committed to learning as much as they can from professionals who have spent their careers studying extremist threats, including many in academia and at institutions like the Karsh Institute of Democracy.
“We must be in ongoing conversations with the broader stakeholder community, from civil rights groups to faith-based organizations to technology companies, to universities like UVA sponsoring this webinar today, to law enforcement partners at the state and local level,” she said.
Wednesday’s webinar was co-sponsored by the President’s Office, the Miller Center and the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy, supported by the George and Judy Marcus Democracy Praxis Fund, Ingrid and David Hang and UVA Rector James B. Murray Jr.
You can view a full recording of the conversation here.