Updated from Nov. 1 with responses from Facebook and Google.
Tuesday's bloody rampage in lower Manhattan once again puts Uber Technologies Inc. in an unfavorable light. The motorist who killed eight and wounded more than a dozen was a driver for the ride-sharing company, which has drawn criticism for its screening of drivers and for its corporate culture.
Uber has previously taken hits for its screening policies after events such as the August death of a passenger in St. Petersburg, Fla., who was punched by one of the company's drivers.
"We are horrified by this senseless act of violence," a statement from Uber about Tuesday's tragic events read. "Our hearts are with the victims and their families. We have reached out to law enforcement to provide our full assistance." An Uber spokesperson stated that Saipov passed a background check, and said the company is assisting the FBI and law enforcement with their investigations.
But at least one expert feels other Silicon Valley giants bear more scrutiny than Uber.
"Uber is the obvious, low hanging fruit. Uber will get a little bit of blame but this will blow over, said Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering in Silicon Valley. "The bigger issue should be, how is this happening, why is this happening and what is enabling it. Why is it you have radical groups in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere able to reach people who come to America?"
Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department are investigating the motivation of Sayfullo Saipov, the Uber driver who used a pickup truck to kill and injure people lower Manhattan on Tuesday. But an associate of Saipov's told CBS News that Saipov was radicalized online after he arrived in the country from Uzbekistan. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN on Wednesday that Saipov adopted extremist views while in the U.S., and noted ISIS's use of the internet to radicalize and recruit attackers.
"This guy was radicalized on the internet while in the U.S.," said Wadhwa, suggesting that companies such as Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report Google, Facebook (FB) - Get Report and Twitter (TWTR) - Get Report could play a bigger role in thwarting recruitment and radicalization by groups such as ISIS. "Why aren't we asking how and why Facebook and Twitter are allowing radicalization?"
Lawmakers are grilling executives from the social media outfits in Washington this week regarding Russian meddling in the Presidential election. Wadhwa suggested that Congress should also examine the role that social media plays in the radicalization of people such as Saipov. Saipov reportedly left a note saying that he committed the attacks for ISIS.
"They are watching everything we do in an effort to market to us, they want to sell us ads," Wadhwa said of the large internet companies and social media networks. "Every word we write in practically every language, every photograph we post is being monitored by Facebook, Google, Twitter, all of these companies. Why can't they be limiting the spread of hatred?"
In response to a request for comment, Twitter emphasized that it takes an active role in shutting down accounts linked to terrorism. "Our anti-spam tools are getting faster, more efficient, and smarter in how we take down accounts that violate our policy," the social media networks' September transparency report noted. The company suspended 299,649 accounts for promoting terrorism from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year, with 75% terminated "before their first tweet."
"Notably, government requests accounted for less than 1% of account suspensions for the promotion of terrorism during the first half of this year," Twitter's report stated. "Instead, 95% of these account suspensions were the result of our internal efforts to combat this content with proprietary tools, up from 74% in our last Transparency Report."
Facebook responded by saying that it is using AI and other methods to make its social network safe. "Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for terrorism, and we take swift action to remove this content when it's reported to us," a spokesperson told The Street. The company wrote in a blog post that it can use image matching to identify a video used as ISIS propaganda, for example, and is experimenting with software that can scan language to identify text linked to terror groups.
For its part, Google said it uses a combination of "human flagging and human review together with technology" to identify problematic content on YouTube, pointing to an October blog post. The company said staffers watched more than a million videos to improve its technology for flagging objectionable content, and noted that more than 83% of the videos it tagged for violent extremism were taken down before receiving complaints from external users.
FBI Executive Assistant Director Michael Steinbach addressed the role of social media in recruitment before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in July 2016.
"From a Homeland perspective, it is ISIL's widespread reach through the Internet and particularly social media which is most concerning as ISIL has aggressively employed this technology for its nefarious strategy," Steinbach said. "ISIL blends traditional media platforms, glossy photos, in-depth articles, and social media campaigns that can go viral in a matter of seconds. No matter the format, the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago."
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