Jacinda Ardern to lead international summit tackling online extremism

New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern is co-leading an international meeting in Paris on Wednesday to curb online extremism in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

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 on Wednesday, 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 mass shooting 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.

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

"It's a global problem that requires a global response," Ms Ardern said.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times at the weekend, the Kiwi PM 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.

Ms 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.

23 April 2019, Berlin: ILLUSTRATION - The logo of the social network Facebook can be seen on the display of a smartphone. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Top executives from Twitter, Microsoft, Google and Amazon will attend the summit in Paris tackling online extremism.
Getty Images

Since the attack, Ms 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.

Funding for more research critical

In Australia, some academics are calling on the government to invest more funding in research to better understand the dynamics of online hate as well as any flow-on initiatives.

Ana-Maria Bliuc is a senior lecturer in human behaviour at Western Sydney University and she says it’s important to focus more work on determining how people come to identify with extremist online groups.  

“We need to have a systematic manner in which evidence-based research can be used to be integrated in other programs, for example, how to increase the resilience of targets or how to combat online radicalisation," she said.

Ms Bliuc said research indicates the undeniable effect that online social media has on the proliferation of hate groups.

“In the research I have done, we found that the internet was used quite strategically by racist and extremist groups to be able to obtain and to build online support.”

In a paper Ms Bluic co-wrote in March this year, it found white supremacy organisations, such as Stormfront Downunder, have transformed over time to become more hostile. 

'Practical outcomes'

"Terrorists have always been a step ahead of us when it comes to the online techniques they use," a source in the French presidency 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.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (C) meets with members of the Muslim community following mass shooting at two mosques, in Christchurch, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with members of the Muslim community following mass shooting at two mosques, in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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

Ms 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."

Source AFP - SBS

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