Terror expert defends Facebook over Lee Rigby killing

Woolwich killer Michael Adebowale had sent message to Islamic extremist through site

Lee Rigby’s sister, Sara McClure, told the Sun: “Facebook have my brother’s blood on their hands. I hold them partly responsible for Lee’s murder.” Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Lee Rigby’s sister, Sara McClure, told the Sun: “Facebook have my brother’s blood on their hands. I hold them partly responsible for Lee’s murder.” Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

 

Facebook, the social media company blamed for not tipping off British intelligence agencies about the desire of Woolwich killer Michael Adebowale to murder a British soldier, has been strongly defended.

Westminster’s intelligence and security committee complained that the company had not picked up on a message from Adebowale – who with Michael Adebolajo murdered fusilier Lee Rigby in May 2013 – to an Islamic extremist.

In the end, Adebowale deleted the message, while Facebook’s tracking systems later closed seven other accounts run by the London-born killer now serving a life sentence for the killing.

 

Direct messages

Once inappropriate language is flagged up it is then passed on to moderators, but the system would collapse if every reference to words such as “soldier” or “killing” had to be vetted by human hand.

 

Richard Barrett, previously an anti-terror director at MI6, defended Facebook, saying he doubted it had the resources to flag up suspect conversations on the site due to the sheer mass of content it hosts.

“Facebook has about one and a third billion users and about five billion posts a day so clearly on a worldwide basis it would be almost impossible to deal with the amount of stuff that was referred,” he said.

“I think it’s very hard to talk about the social responsibility of a multinational company,” he added. “I think it’s quite a burden to put on Facebook to decide where their social responsibility lies in all different circumstances.”

Meanwhile, it was pointed out that British intelligence agencies had not made a targeted request to Facebook about Adebowale’s social media traffic because they had stopping investigating him.

Understandably, the Rigby family are unhappy. The dead soldier’s sister, Sara McClure, told the Sun: “Facebook have my brother’s blood on their hands. I hold them partly responsible for Lee’s murder.”

The counterterrorism and security Bill introduced in the House of Commons on Wednesday will require UK- based web companies to hold on to enough data to ensure messages of individuals can be read – but it cannot force compliance by foreign firms.

Relations between Washington and London and internet firms were strained after US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the depth of surveillance British and US intelligence agencies were involved in. Seeking to soothe divisions, British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said there would be a “real effort” to ensure governments and technology firms worked together to deal with terror threats.

“That is partly them, of course, making sure that they have the processes in place so that an alarm goes off when some information or communication or a blog post is of some serious concern,” he said.