Macron and Ardern announce measures against online extremism

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hosted a first summit for the Christchurch Call initiative on Wednesday aimed at curbing online extremism.

Alain Jocard, AFP | New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysee Palace in Paris on May 15.

The Christchurch Call initiative was spearheaded by Ardern after a gunman who identified himself as a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in March in Christchurch, New Zealand, the country’s most deadly attack of recent times.

The summit, attended by world leaders as well as representatives from global tech giants, comes amid a growing realisation that social media must be better regulated to prevent it from being weaponised by extremists like the one at Christchurch, who broadcast live video of the massacre on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.

The Christchurch massacre “was truly unprecedented in its use of social media as a weapon in the attack and the subsequent spread of the terrorist's hateful message”, Ardern said.

"Youtube recorded one upload per second on their platform within that first 24 hour period" after the attack, she added.

The adoption of the Christchurch Call brings together tech companies and nations in way that has never been done before, Ardern said, including changes Facebook has already made to its rules on live streaming.

She called the meeting a "first step" to "stop social media being perverted as a tool for terrorists and preserving it instead as a means for individuals and communities to connect".

Speaking at her side at the Élysée Palace, Macron said the commitments made today "are part of continuing exchanges between the private sector and heads of state or government".

France's calls for removing terrorist content online were initially specifically European, he noted, saying the scope of these efforts has now been broadened to include New Zealand, Indonesia and Canada as well as elements from civil society.

“What happened in Christchurch wasn’t just a terrorist attack. It was the transformation of the internet into a crazy propaganda machine favouring division and war,” Macron said.

Those attending the summit pledged to implement new measures aimed at suppressing violent or extremist content.

"The dissemination of such content online has adverse impacts on the human rights of the victims, on our collective security and on people all over the world," they said in a statement.

Facebook in particular has faced withering criticism since the Christchurch attack, after the horrific footage was uploaded and shared millions of times despite efforts to remove it.

The social media giant, which participated in crafting the new commitments, said earlier Wednesday that it would limit access to its live-streaming feature.

Google and its YouTube unit also joined the pledge, along with Twitter, Wikipedia, Dailymotion and Microsoft.

The companies said they would cooperate on finding new tools to identify and quickly remove extremist content, such as sharing databases of violent posts or images to ensure they don't spread across multiple platforms.

They also said they would explore tweaking their algorithms to prevent violent or hateful content from going viral, while making it easier for users to report harmful posts.

"For the first time, governments, international organisations, companies and digital agencies have agreed on a series of measures and a long-term collaboration to make the internet safer," Macron's office said in a statement on the summit.

But it will be up to tech companies to develop the specific tools and policies that will stop the spread of violence and harassment online.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app