Wednesday, May 15, 2019, twenty countries and eight tech companies gathered together in Paris, France to compile the Christchurch Call, a set of guidelines for governments and companies to help combat the internet being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups, and to broadcast attacks. It provides a roadmap aiming to prevent similar abuses of the internet while insisting that any actions must preserve "the principles of a free, open, and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The Christchurch Call developed after the attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which the events were broadcast live on Facebook, drawing public outrage and fueling debate on how to better regulate social media. The New Zealand government under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, partnered with the Frence government under President Emmanuel Macron.
"Fundamentally it commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes."
Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern
The meeting on Wednesday coincided with the "Tech for Good" conference in which 80 CEOS and executives from technology companies gathered in Paris to address how they can use their global influence for public good. Accordingly, the Christchurch Call has involved the major social media and internet players. Facebook. Amazon. Google. Microsoft. Twitter. Those five companies in particular issued a joint statement supporting the Call, outlining in further detail actions they would take individually or together to combat abuse of their technology. Facebook in particular, has committed to toughening its livestreaming policies, with a one strike policy for a broad range of offenses.
The companies that have joined in support are not surprising. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, the European Commission and members the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweeden, Norway, and the Netherlands, among others.
There is one glaring omission.
The White House is not endorsing the global pledge, citing a respect for "freedom of expression and freedom of the press." Instead, the White House said it will "continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorism online" while also protecting free speech.
As if the other countries supporting the pledge don't have free speech rights in their countries. Some of them having much stronger guarantees than we do in the United States.
Further, the Christchurch Call is not some binding legal decree or treaty. It's a nonbinding pledge without any plan for enforcement or regulatory measures. It's a symbol. It's a recognition of the problem and a commitment to address it. It is something we could commit to and adopt to our Free Speech requirements.
But I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. There are a lot of extremist groups that support the current administration. Extremists which have endorsed Trump and he has not exactly disavowed. Why would he start now?
Further, endorsing the call would seem to be counterproductive to President Trump's attempts to call out social media firms for a perceived social media bias against conservatives. "SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear 'violations' of user policies," read an online form shared with the Twitter followers of the White House. Nevermind that many of the so called conservatives that have been banned have been promoting out right lies and misinformation or calling for truly extremist views. Or that there has been no evidence of a systemic effort on the part of Facebook, Twitter, or Google to specifically shut down conservatives users or content.
Perhaps Trump is just worried his twitter account would be affected?
It's also part of a worrying trend where the United States is forgoing many global causes. Backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Bilateral trade agreements. From the United Nations Human Rights Council. Yeah.
At some point we have to realize that we have responsibilities as a global citizen. That isolationism does not work.
Perhaps there's hope for a turnaround in a year and a half.
Or maybe we'll just get more of Gene Simmons, from KISS in the White House briefing room. Apparently that took precedence yesterday.