New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron

Tech giants and governments unite to tackle online terrorist content

Image credit: Reuters

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have pledged to fight and eradicate online "the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence".

A nine-point plan of action has been agreed following a meeting of world leaders and technology firms, held in Paris and hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The meeting and subsequent joint action statement were named the ‘Christchurch Call to Action’. The summit was convened in response to the terror attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, in which 51 people were killed. That attack was live streamed online and ultimately shared and distributed tens of  thousands of times across social media.

Speaking at the summit, Macron said, “What happened in Christchurch was not just another terrorist attack. It was someone taking the power of the internet and transforming into this machine for spreading crazy propaganda.”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May was among world leaders attending the meeting, along with former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg (now head of global affairs at Facebook), Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey.

In a joint statement that followed the meeting, the technology companies said they would each take steps to improve their respective policies on violent content - expressly prohibiting the distribution of such content in the terms of use - as well as establishing new tools to make it easier for users to report violent content and promising increased collaboration between the companies in order to inhibit the spread of such content.

The statement read: “The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March were a horrifying tragedy. And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.

“The Christchurch Call announced today expands on the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and builds on our other initiatives with government and civil society to prevent the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content.

“Additionally, we are sharing concrete steps we will take that address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content, including continued investment in technology that improves our capability to detect and remove this content from our services, updates to our individual terms of use, and more transparency for content policies and removals.

“Terrorism and violent extremism are complex societal problems that require an all-of-society response. For our part, the commitments we are making today will further strengthen the partnership that governments, society and the technology industry must have to address this threat.”

The agreement also includes pledges to invest in new technology to better find and remove inappropriate posts; to introduce new checks on livestreams; to publish regular transparency reports, and to work together on crisis protocols for responding to active terror events.

“This agreement is unprecedented,” Ardern said. “Never before have these countries and these companies come together like this. We must stop social media from being perverted and used as a tool for terrorists.”

The governments signing the agreement promised to fight terrorism and extremism by “strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of our societies.” They also will work to make law enforcement more effective, ensure laws in place are being enforced, encourage media to “apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online,” and support voluntary industry standards.

In total, 18 governments have signed the accord so far: Australia, Canada, European Commission, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Senegal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom

However, the United States declined to formally participate in the accord. In a statement, the White House said: “The United States stands with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online in the strongest terms. While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call.”

Macron and Ardern both chose to sidestep the absence of the US, choosing instead to welcome its engagement with the principles of the agreement. There was also the suggestion that the Christchurch Call is effectively a roadmap for steering technology companies into taking appropriate action. The parties plan to meet again in four months’ time for a review of work done and progress made.

The UK Government recently published a White Paper around online harms which called for a statutory duty of care to be introduced for internet firms, which would be enforced by a new independent regulator.


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