Christchurch Call: Tech companies, 17 governments sign New Zealand-led pledge - but not the US

2019-05-15 18:38:32

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Christchurch Call has been signed by an unprecedented grouping of tech companies and world leaders in Paris overnight.

The pledge from the west's leading social media platforms and 17 governments includes a range of commitments to fight the spread of terrorist and extremist content online.

The three-page non-binding pledge document is the result of six weeks of frenetic activity following the terror attack on March 15, which saw 51 Muslim worshippers killed and the atrocity live-streamed on Facebook.

It is believed to be the first agreement signed between tech companies and governments at this scale.

The tech companies - including Facebook, Twitter, and Google - commit to taking specific action against the possibility of live-streaming atrocities, set more transparent community standards that are more rigorously enforced, and review whether the algorithms which drive what content is shown on social media is aiding radicalisation.

The suggestion that tech companies and governments work together to change these algorithms to show users less harmful content is also mooted.

All nine governments with a leader at the summit - including the UK and France - committed to working with tech companies to achieve these goals, enforce laws already on their books, and consider further regulation of the internet.

A further six countries are signing on from afar, as well as the European Commission, whose president Jean-Claude Juncker is present.

The United States did not sign on to the agreement but in a statement the White House said it endorsed the overarching goals of the call, but could not join on at this time.

Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron co-hosted a summit meeting with the leaders in Paris. While several countries sent their leaders, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was not present, sending in his stead chief lobbyist Nick Clegg.

Ardern directly challenged the tech companies present to take on more responsibility for their platforms.

"The internet is made up of vast, complex technological platforms. But they were created by people. They are managed by people. When they harm, they harm people," Ardern said.

"I know that none of you want your platforms to perpetuate and amplify terrorism and extremist violence. 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 start-up. Your scale and influence brings a burden of responsibility."

"The Christchurch attack was unprecedented. But our response is equally unprecedented."

She directly addressed those who may be worried about free speech concerns, saying any regulation should respect the benefits of a free and open internet.

Ardern has told media she wanted the call to "at first" only include other countries who respected these rights.

"Today is just the first step towards a shared goal of eliminating terrorist content online. But action to achieve that does not end today, we have all agreed to ongoing collaborative work aimed at improving our collective security," Ardern said.

"From here, I will work alongside others signed up to the Christchurch Call to bring more partners on board, and develop a range of practical initiatives to ensure the pledge we have made today is delivered".

In a joint statement, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Amazon commended the call.

"The Christchurch Call announced today expands on the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism , 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.

"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."

Macron said the internet needed "public order" while maintaining freedom of speech.

"Our objective is very simple. What happened in Christchurch should never happen again," Macron said.


The document is non-binding, meaning there is no legal force behind the commitments for either governments or tech companies.

Ardern said that getting a treaty-level document agreement would have taken months and would have demanded the exclusion of the tech companies.

The pledge is split into three lists of commitments - one for governments, one for tech companies, and one for the two working together, along with a preamble which stipulates that the agreement shouldn't impinge on free speech rights or the openness of the internet.

The governments pledge to "counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism" by building inclusive societies, ensure laws surrounding terrorist content are actually enforced, encourage media outlets to "apply ethical standards", and consider "appropriate action to prevent the use of online services to disseminate terrorist and violent extremist content" - including regulation.

The tech companies pledge to take "transparent specific measures" to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content - with measures that might include cross-industry collaboration, a first for the industry on this issue.

They also pledge to provide more transparency about their terms of service, enforce those terms of service more rigorously and implement immediate action to stop further livestreaming of atrocities.

The companies also committed to more public reporting on the amount of terrorist content on their platforms, and a review of whether the algorithmic processes they use to decide what users see on social media are aiding radicalisation by drawing users into rabbit-holes of harmful content.

"This may include using algorithms and other processes to redirect users away from such content or the promotion of credible, positive alternatives and counter-narratives."


The countries who signed the pledge and have a leader present at the meeting are France, New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, the UK, as well as the European Commission.

Countries who are not present but signing on are Australia, Germany, Japan, Italy, India, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

Tech companies Amazon, Facebook, Dailymotion, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter, and YouTube have also signed on.

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