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Photo: Yoan Valat

Eliminating the online terror scourge: Will the Christchurch Call work?

Last week 18 countries and five tech companies signed the historic Christchurch Call to Action, the first global pledge to fight online hate speech, violence and terrorism.

Spearheaded by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron, the Call follows the March 15 terror attacks on Christchurch’s Muslim community where 51 people were shot dead.

The Call has been supported by tech behemoths such as Facebook and Google, with both pledging to "expressly prohibit the distribution of terrorist and violent extremist content". Before the Call, Facebook introduced a 30-day Facebook Live ban for individuals who upload violent material, a move Prime Minister Ardern called "a good first step".

It has long been acknowledged that the internet has become a hotbed for hate speech, violence and the mobilisation of terror attacks, and that regulation and surveillance play critical roles in curbing such content.

Controversially, the Trump Administration did not sign the agreement, citing concerns for “freedom of expression and freedom of the press”. It did, however, lend support to the aims of plan.

"We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press," a White House statement read.

"We encourage technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist purposes.

"We maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech and thus we emphasise the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Following that decision, Dr Fiona Martin, an expert in the regulation of online media, delivered a scathing assessment of the US government’s position.

“It’s disappointing to see the United States’ government fail to sign the Christchurch Call, precisely because it knows freedom of speech is not absolute. It knows speech requires regulation to protect citizens from dangerous and criminal speech that would harm them and disrupt public order,” Dr Martin said.

“So, in saying it supports the agreement, but won’t sign it, it’s fence-sitting to please political extremists in its constituency.

“Trump’s government wants to reply on productive speech or counter speech as the solution to terrorist speech. This approach doesn’t work and wouldn’t have stopped the Christchurch attack live stream or its frightening aftermath.

“Only carefully developed constraints on who can access live streaming will stop future incidents like this – and the US government’s failure to be at the table to discuss those policy approaches shows it doesn’t take the fight against violence and terror seriously.”

Dr Fiona Martin spoke to Campus Review about the agreement, the US’s decision to not sign the pledge and the challenges ahead.

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One comment

  1. What about Macron and Facebook censoring the truth on the violence done to unarmed yellow vest protesters? All in the name of stopping hate speech and violence…. The truth is shocking. State sanctioned violence that has killed multiple people and has untold wounded, lots with injuries like eyes shot out and hands blown off from stun grenades…. all done by french police. This censorship is being done to stop hate?????? Free speech is really under threat, this is dangerous, don’t believe it? then look at the Yellow vest videos and the images of the wounded, if you find them before facebook pulls them down. The truth is being hidden. Lots of media gag orders…. this should be front page news….
    I understand the need for this call to action, but we must be careful to avoid censorship of the truth, especially with brutal government sanctioned violence.

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