Details emerge of New Zealand plan to tackle online extremism

Ardern and Macron to co-host meeting in Paris this week in wake of Christchurch attacks

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern: “This was a terrorist attack that was designed to go viral,” said Ms Ardern in a video discussing the Christchurch Call initiative.  Photograph: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern: “This was a terrorist attack that was designed to go viral,” said Ms Ardern in a video discussing the Christchurch Call initiative. Photograph: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

 

Details have emerged of a plan by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron to eliminate terrorist and violent content online.

Ms Ardern and Mr Macron will meet in Paris this week on the sidelines of a meeting of digital ministers from the Group of 7 nations to discuss the plan – named the “Christchurch Call” – and urge other leaders to sign up.

The New Zealand prime minister announced the project in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15th. The worst mass-murder in the nation’s modern history, in which 51 people were killed, was streamed live online and shared thousands of times.

On Monday the New York Times reported that the initiative would call on signatory nations to adopt and enforce laws that ban objectionable material, and set guidelines on how traditional media can report acts of terrorism without amplifying them.

Voluntary

However, the pledge does not contain any enforcement or regulatory measures, and it would be up to each individual country and company to decide how it would honour its voluntary commitments.

A definition of violent extremist content was not included in a draft version of the pledge, and it would be up to individual companies to decide on what constituted objectionable material, the paper said. The pledge asked tech companies to enforce their terms of service, as well as “re-evaluate their algorithms that direct users to extremist content, and commit to redirecting people looking for extremist material”.

At the summit in Paris on Wednesday, Ms Ardern will meet the leaders of global tech giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will not attend the event.

Before leaving New Zealand, Ms Ardern said her country of fewer than 5 million people had been “left reeling” after the Christchurch attack, and despite free speech principles being a central tenet of western democracy, no one has “a right to livestream the murder of 50 people”.

“This was a terrorist attack that was designed to go viral,” said Ms Ardern in a video discussing the Christchurch Call.

Ms Ardern said many people did not seek out the video of the attack, but saw it unwittingly because “the proliferation of it was so extreme”. Ms Ardern herself saw parts of the video when it appeared on her Facebook page shortly after the attack.

It was important to New Zealanders that the internet remained “free, open and accessible”, Ms Ardern said, and the Christchurch Call would not impinge on those rights, but seek to patrol the dissemination and spread of terrorist and extremist material online.

Pledge

New Zealand government officials have already visited the White House and the state department to discuss the pledge and urge the US to sign, the New York Times reported, although the US has indicated it will not.

Britain, Canada, Jordan, Senegal, Australia, Indonesia, Norway and Ireland have indicated they intend to sign the pledge.

The news came as New Zealand opened a royal commission into the Christchurch attacks.

The inquiry will look into the suspected gunman’s activities, use of social media and international connections, as well as whether there was inappropriate priority settings in counter-terrorism resources.

“The commission’s findings will help to ensure such an attack never happens here again,” Ms Ardern said in a statement. Its findings will be handed to the government on December 10th. – Guardian