Jacinda Ardern at remembrance service

World leaders and tech executives to pledge to fight terrorism online

Image credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is to host a meeting of world leaders in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron next month, to discuss how extreme violent content could be banished from the internet.

The government and parliament of New Zealand has been quick to respond to the Christchurch terrorist attack, in which an alleged white supremacist gunman systematically killed 50 people at worship at two mosques, and live streamed the rampage on Facebook from a camera mounted on his helmet. The government quickly introduced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles, while Ardern fiercely condemned the attacker and promised government support for survivors and the victims’ families.

Facebook reported taking down 1.5 million versions of the attacker’s footage in the day after the attack, although the platform did not prevent the attack from being broadcast live. This week, Facebook public policy director Neil Potts admitted to the Home Affairs Committee that the ‘first person’ perspective of the footage had fooled Facebook’s automatic content filters and that there was a chance that the footage remained on Facebook.

Facebook received widespread condemnation for allowing the attack to be broadcast on one of its platforms. It has since announced a ban on content promoting white nationalism and white separatism, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg used an opinion piece in the Washington Post to call for governments and regulators to take a more active role in keeping the Internet safe, alongside technology companies.

Ardern, while welcoming Facebook’s decision to classify white nationalism and white separatism as hate speech, has said that more work needs to be done. She will travel to Paris to meet with Macron and other world leaders and chief executives of major technology companies to agree to the ‘Christchurch Call’ pledge. The meeting is expected to be held on May 15.

Ardern said that she has been speaking to representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google and that she felt that an agreement could be reached by keeping the Christchurch Call well focused. She said that nobody would argue that a terrorist has the right to livestream mass murder.

“This isn’t about freedom of speech. It’s specifically focused on eradicating those extreme acts of terrorism online,” Ardern said, during a press conference. “It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism.”

“No tech company, just like no government, wishes to see violent extremism and terrorism online, so we have a starting point that is one of unity.”

Ardern added that Macron, who will co-chair the Paris meeting, had played an important role in the fight against terrorism proliferating online. In November 2018, the French government announced that it would send regulators to Facebook to determine whether its processes for removing hate speech could be improved.

Details of the Christchurch Call are not yet known, although Ardern said that the agreement would focus strongly on practical action. Robyn Caplan, a research at Data & Society, told the New York Times that “without some sort of incentives or disincentives, I’m not quite certain what change will happen.”

Despite the New Zealand government taking swift action to ban military-style weapons, Ardern has said she would not rush to pass legislation targeting violent content online, as any agreement made with social media companies must have a global reach. However, the Australian Parliament has since approved the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Bill, which could apply significant fines and even jail social media company executives for failing to remove extremely violent content.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles