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Silicon Valley and White House Discuss Harnessing Technology to Combat Terrorism

Discussion included a declassified briefing on how terrorists use technology -- including encryption.

David Ramos/Getty Images

At a two-hour-plus meeting Friday morning, senior White House officials and some of the most prominent figures in Silicon Valley met to explore ways technology could be harnessed to combat violent extremism.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki were among the technology industry executives gathered at an undiscolsed location in San Jose to speak with top Obama Administration officials and representatives of law enforcement, including FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, according to people familiar with the matter.

Federal officials offered an unclassified briefing about terrorists’ use of technology — including encryption, and discussed the newly formed government task force — the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force — created to combat violent extremism.

Much of the conversation focused on social media and its role as a propaganda tool for violent extremists such as the Islamic State, according to sources. Federal officials sought Silicon Valley’s input in figuring out how to make it harder for terrorists to leverage the Internet to recruit, radicalize and spur followers to violence.

The government also is looking for ways to help others create and publish content that would undercut ISIS’s extremist message. The Department of Homeland Security already works with Facebook and a third-party consulting firm on one such program, which encourages college students to create antiterrorism campaigns to share on sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Called Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism, it is a competition that challenges millennials to create social or digital campaigns to counter violent extremism and hate speech. The goal is to offer a different perspective on the very social media platforms where ISIS and other extremist recruit new members.

“This meeting confirmed that we are united in our goal to keep terrorists and terror-promoting material off the Internet,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an statement. “We explained our policies and how we enforce them. Facebook does not tolerate terrorists or terror propaganda and we work aggressively to remove it as soon as we become aware of it.”

Participants described the session as a productive and fruitful brainstorming session where everyone could candidly discuss issues. Many of the White House technology executives at the meeting have serious Silicon Valley credentials — among them, Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, a former Google executive; Deputy CTO Ed Felton, a noted computer security and privacy expert from Princeton; and Deputy CTO Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s former general counsel.

One executive, CloudFlare Chief Executive Matthew Prince, turned to Twitter to applaud the meeting.

The post has been updated to include a statement from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on

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