May calls on social media giants to do more to tackle terrorism

Theresa May will use a speech to business leaders in Davos on Thursday to urge shareholders to pressure social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook to do more to tackle terrorism.

May flew to the Swiss ski resort for the World Economic Forum on Wednesday after prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

She will call for more action from tech companies to identify and take down extremist content and say investors have a responsibility to pressure them to clean up their act.

“Investors can make a big difference here by ensuring trust and safety issues are being properly considered. And I urge them to do so,” she will say, citing a recent case in which Facebook and Twitter shareholders called for the platforms to take tougher action.

May is expected to say: “these companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content.”

The prime minister has repeatedly returned in recent months to the issue of tech companies’ role in facilitating terrorism and extremism, including at the UN general assembly in September.

The government acknowledges that progress has been made – with firms identifying and taking down extremist content more quickly, for example. But it would like to see more action taken.

May will say: “We need to go further, so that ultimately this content is removed automatically. These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They must focus their brightest and best on meeting these fundamental social responsibilities.”

She will also single out the messaging app Telegram, which has been accused of facilitating communication by terrorists.

“Just as these big companies need to step up, so we also need cross-industry responses because smaller platforms can quickly become home to criminals and terrorists. We have seen that happen with Telegram. And we need to see more co-operation from smaller platforms like this. No one wants to be known as ‘the terrorists’ platform’ or the first choice app for paedophiles,” she will say.

May will also meet the US president, Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum – the first time the pair have met since they clashed over his sharing of videos from the far-right group Britain First.

A report from Bloomberg News on Wednesday cited senior insiders saying that when the pair speak on the phone, Trump “totally dominates the discussion, leaving the prime minister with five or 10 seconds to speak before he interrupts and launches into another monologue”.

But Downing Street sources insisted the pair have a good relationship and suggested they would be likely to discuss foreign affairs, including North Korea and Iran, rather than the possibility of a Trump visit to Britain.

May’s 2017 trip to Davos, home of the global elite, raised eyebrows, as it followed criticism of her “citizens of nowhere” comment in her first party conference speech as prime minister.

This year the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, will also be speaking at Davos. He issued a statement on Wednesday saying he would use the trip to issue “a warning to the global elite”. McDonnell added: “just as Davos faces the risk of an avalanche this week, growth for a few risks a political and social avalanche unless there is fundamental change to our rigged economic system.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was invited to Davos but declined to attend. “He chooses to go to events where he thinks he can make an effective contribution and it’s appropriate for him to go,” his spokesman said.

“The Davos event has become representative of a system and set of global elites which have clearly failed, a system that clearly isn’t delivering for people.”

Labour said McDonnell would make clear that he believed the global economy was being mismanaged. “The large majority of the success in taking hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is in one part of the world, namely China,” the spokesman said.

Asked if the country was a good example for the UK, he said: “China and Britain are entirely different countries at different stages of development with entirely different economic and political systems.”

In Davos, McDonnell will speak on a panel on Friday morning, as well as meet various charity executives, his office said.