New Zealand PM targets online hate after mosque attacks

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch March 26, 2019. — Joseph Johnson/pool pic via Reuters
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch March 26, 2019. — Joseph Johnson/pool pic via Reuters

WELLINGTON, May 14 — New Zealand's leader Jacinda Ardern will join other world leaders in launching a “Christchurch call” to curb online extremism at an international meeting in Paris tomorrow, following the worst mass killing in her country's recent history.

Participants will be asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.

The move was prompted by the massacre in March at two Christchurch mosques by a self-described white supremacist, who broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera as he gunned down 51 people.

Arden has been the driving force behind the Paris summit, co-hosted with French President Emmanuel Macron, following the tragedy.

“Macron was one of the first leaders to call the prime minister after the attack, and he has long made removing hateful online content a priority,” New Zealand's ambassador to France, Jane Coombs, told journalists yesterday.

“It's a global problem that requires a global response,” she said.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times over the weekend, Ardern said the Christchurch massacre underlined “a horrifying new trend” in extremist atrocities.

“It was designed to be broadcast on the internet. The entire event was livestreamed... the scale of this horrific video's reach was staggering,” she wrote.

Ardern said Facebook removed 1.5 million copies of the video within 24 hours of the attack, but she still found herself among those who inadvertently saw the footage when it auto-played on their social media feeds.

Since the attack, Ardern has strongly criticised tech giants for not doing enough to combat online extremism.

Attendees at the Paris summit will include heads of state or government from Britain, Canada, Ireland, Norway, Jordan, Senegal and Indonesia.

Top executives from Twitter, Microsoft, Google and Amazon will also attend, though Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg will be represented by another executive from the social media giant, after meeting with Macron last Friday.

“We deliberately limited the number of participants to ensure we can move forward quickly, but the idea is to create something that we can open up to as many people as possible,” a source in the French presidency said.

'Practical outcomes'

“Terrorists have always been a step ahead of us when it comes to the online techniques they use,” the source said, adding that companies needed to “anticipate how their features will be exploited.”

Firms themselves will be urged to come up with concrete measures, he said, for example by reserving live broadcasting to social media accounts whose owners have been identified, to avoid bad surprises from newly created anonymous accounts.

“No company wants their platforms to become a pool of hateful content, nor do their advertisers or most of their users,” he said.

Running alongside the G7's “Tech for Humanity” meeting in the French capital, Ardern said the Christchurch Call was a voluntary code aimed to stop terrorist content being uploaded to social media platforms.

“(We're) asking both nations and private corporations to make changes to prevent the posting of terrorist content online, to ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks,” she wrote in The Times.

She added: “This is not about undermining or limiting freedom of speech. It is about these companies and how they operate.”

While some — such as Zuckerberg — have called for better regulation to address the issue, Ardern said governments could not succeed without help from the tech sector.

“Practical outcomes are what we're seeking from this work,” she told New Zealand's Newshub.

“Not just governments regulating, but actually tech companies taking ownership and responsibility over their platforms and the technological solutions that they hold the key to.”

Ardern said New Zealand had been “left reeling” by the Christchurch massacre, and it wanted to prevent similar atrocities happening elsewhere.

“We have a reluctant duty of care, a responsibility that we now find ourselves holding,” she said. — AFP

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