The March 15 attack was shocking in its use of social media as a tool in the act of terror and with the Christchurch Call we have taken a unique approach to solving this problem
French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have led a group of world leaders, tech companies and organisations to adopt a pledge that seeks to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online to stop the internet being used as a tool for terrorists.
The Christchurch Call, named for the New Zealand city in which 51 members of its Muslim community were murdered in a live-streamed terrorist attack on March 15, took place in Paris.
Leaders from 10 countries and major technology companies committed to a set of collective actions that aim to eliminate terrorism and violent extremist content online.
The Christchurch Call is an action plan that commits government and tech companies to a range of measures, including developing tools to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content; countering the roots of violent extremism; increasing transparency around the removal and detection of content, and reviewing how companies’ algorithms direct users to violent extremist content.
“We can be proud of what we have started with the adoption of the Christchurch Call,” says Ardern. “We’ve taken practical steps to try and stop what we experienced in Christchurch from happening again.”
“The March 15 attack was shocking in its use of social media as a tool in the act of terror and with the Christchurch Call we have taken a unique approach to solving this problem.”
The US government’s failure to be at the table to discuss those policy approaches shows it doesn’t take the fight against violence and terror online seriously
For the first time governments and tech companies have jointly agreed to a set of commitments and ongoing collaboration to make the internet safer.
“We owe it to those affected by the attacks in Christchurch, and other attacks in cities and towns around the world where terrorism and violent extremism have struck, to undertake this work.”
The Call acknowledges that government regulation alone will not solve the problem.
“We need to build this new cyberspace, a free, open and secure Internet, which allows everyone to share, learn, innovate, but which also allows us to uphold our values, protect our citizens and empower them,” says President Emmanuel Macron.
Ardern has a message to the heads of internet companies that joined them at the meeting.
We need to build this new cyberspace, a free, open and secure Internet, which allows everyone to share, learn, innovate, but which also allows us to uphold our values, protect our citizens and empower them
“You work in an industry renowned for its innovation and fast pace of change,” she states. “You make the seemingly impossible, possible. We want you to apply this approach to this issue.
"I know that none of you want your platforms to perpetuate and amplify terrorism and extremist violence,” she adds. “But these platforms have grown at such pace, with such popularity, that we are all now dealing with consequences you may not have imagined when your company was just a startup. Your scale and influence brings a burden of responsibility.”
New Zealand and France will take the Christchurch Call to other countries, organisations and companies, and advance its goals in other forums, such as the UN Leaders’ Week, later this year.
The Call was adopted at the meeting by France, New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, the UK, and the European Commission as well as Amazon, Facebook, Dailymotion, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter, and YouTube.
Other countries who have adopted the Call but were not at the meeting are Australia, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
‘Fence-sitting’ to please political extremists?
The White House said in a statement the United States was "not currently in a position to join the endorsement," but added "we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the call".
“It’s disappointing to see the United States’ government fail to sign the Christchurch Call, precisely because it knows freedom of speech is not absolute,” says Dr Fiona Martin, senior lecturer in convergent and online media at the University of Sydney.
“In saying it supports the agreement, but won’t sign it, it’s fence-sitting to please political extremists in its constituency,” she adds.
“Trump’s government wants to reply on productive speech or counterspeech as the solution to terrorist speech. This approach doesn’t work, and wouldn’t have stopped the Christchurch attack livestream or its frightening aftermath.
“Only carefully developed constraints on who can access livestreaming will stop future incidents like this – and the US government’s failure to be at the table to discuss those policy approaches shows it doesn’t take the fight against violence and terror online seriously.”
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