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Thune asks whether big tech is doing enough to combat the spread of extremist propaganda

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, speaks to the Rotary Club of Mitchell in September 2017 at the Ramada Inn. (Caitlynn Peetz / Republic)

In an effort to contain the spread of extremist propaganda across the web, South Dakota's longest tenured member of Congress had one key question to ask: Is big tech doing enough?

U.S. Sen. John Thune chaired a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday about the relationship of terrorism and social media. And while he acknowledged social media can play a positive role in society, he was slightly pointed in his opening remarks.

"These services have thrived online because of the freedom made possible by the uniquely American guarantee of free speech, and by a light touch regulatory policy," Thune said. "But, as is so often the case, enemies of our way of life have sought to take advantage of our freedoms to advance hateful causes. Violent Islamic terrorist groups, like ISIS, have been particularly aggressive in seeking to radicalize and recruit over the internet and various social media platforms."

Thune, a Republican, questioned witnesses from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook on how they are working to identify and remove extremist content. But he also noted the contributions the same social media outlets have made.

"The positive contributions of social media platforms are well documented," Thune said. "YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, among others, help to connect people around the world, give voice to those oppressed by totalitarian regimes and provide a forum for discussions of every political, social, scientific and cultural stripe."