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New Zealand & France Unite Against Online Extremism

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  • The country’s leaders are holding a summit in Paris next month, where they hope to sign an agreement with other world leaders and tech firms that aims to “end the use of social media for acts of terrorism.”
  • The pledge has been dubbed the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city that suffered a deadly terror attack last month.
  • Several major tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook, who were criticized for not curbing the spread of footage from the Christchurch shooting, have expressed interest in working together to address the issue.

The Christchurch Call

New Zealand’s prime minister said Wednesday that she is working with France and other tech companies to agree on ways to stop social media sites from being used to promote terrorism and violent extremist content.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will co-chair a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on May 15. There they will ask other world leaders and tech CEOs to agree on a pledge called the “Christchurch Call.”

“This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies,” Ardren said in a statement announcing the plan.

The pledge is named the New Zealand city that was attacked last month. On March 15, a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch while live streaming the attack on Facebook. The footage was later reposted on other social sites like YouTube and Twitter.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism,” Ardern explained.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression,” she added. “This is about preventing violent extremism and terrorism online.”

Will Tech Firms Join?

At a press conference Wednesday, Ardern said that she had spoken with executives from tech firms like Twitter, Microsoft, Google, and others. She specifically added that she had spoken directly with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the meeting.

“The response I’ve received has been positive. No tech company, just like no government, would like to see violent extremism and terrorism online,” Ardern said.

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company looks forward to collaborating with government, industry, and safety experts on framework rules moving forward.

“We’re evaluating how we can best support this effort and who among top Facebook executives will attend,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Google and Twitter also confirmed their support in emailed statements to CNBC. A Google spokesperson said the company will take part in the meeting and added that Google has a zero-tolerance stance of terrorist content.

“We are committed to leading the way in developing new technologies and standards for identifying and removing terrorist content,” the spokesperson said.

“We are working with government agencies, law enforcement and across industry, including as a founding member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to keep this type of content off our platforms. We will continue to engage on this crucial issue.”

Meanwhile, a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC that they were continuously investing in technology to prevent propaganda and extremist accounts from being posted on the platform.

“Our work will never be complete, as the threats we face constantly evolve,” Twitter’s spokesperson added. “We share a common goal with governments all around the world, including in New Zealand, to find real, lasting solutions to building a safer internet and welcome the opportunity to work together with our peers toward a global solution.”

The meeting will be held alongside the “Tech for Humanity” meeting of G7 digital ministers, and France’s “Tech for Good” summit, both on May 15.

Countries Already Pushing for Changes

France’s involvement in the pledge is unsurprising considering the country’s own history with terrorist attacks. In May, French lawmakers will debate an update to the country’s online hate speech law. The move is an attempt to require social media platforms to take more responsibility for taking down hateful content.

However, this specific joint initiative comes after tech giants like Google, Facebook, and YouTube came under fire for how each handled the removal of the graphic footage of the Christchurch attack being reposted on their platforms.

The reposting and sharing of the footage was a massive issue. Facebook, for instance, said they removed about 1.5 million copies of the footage within 24 hours.

Since the Christchurch shooting, a number of controversial laws aimed at addressing extremist social media content have been passed or proposed in countries like Australia, the U.K., and the EU, but the trend of social sites being used to aid the spread of terrorist acts is one that has continued to be an issue.

In a recent preemptive move, Sri Lanka made the drastic decision to blocked Facebook and other social media platforms after the bombings that killed more than 350 on Easter Sunday. Officials said they feared that misinformation and hate speech on the platforms could potentially provoke more violence.

A Difficult Task

While tech companies and world leaders all seem on board with the general idea of trying to combat extremist content online, creating a plan of action will not be easy.

As of now, no specifics on what the “Christchurch Call”  will include have been announced. In fact, Ardern acknowledged that the details will be “incredibly difficult” to formulate and said she is unclear exactly what she and Macron plan to ask the tech firms to do.

According to the New York Times, some analysts have warned that if the agreement does not outline specific consequences for failing to stop extremist content, then it would likely won’t alter any tech companies’ behavior.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNBC)  



International

UK Prime Minister Theresa May Announces Resignation

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  • Theresa May announced her resignation as Prime Minister in a statement Friday.
  • May’s announcement comes after repeated failures to pass a Brexit deal, which prompted factions in her Conservative Party to push for her resignation and threaten a vote of no confidence.
  • May stated her resignation will be effective June 7, though she will remain as a caretaker prime minister until a new leader is appointed.

May’s Announcement

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced Friday that she will resign effective June 7.

May became prime minister in 2016 after U.K. voters decided to leave the European Union. Since then, she has been tasked with leading the Brexit process, a task that has largely defined her three-year-long tenure as Prime Minister.

“I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbors that protects jobs, our security and our union,” May said. “I have done everything I can to convince M.P.s to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so. I tried three times.”

“But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” she continued. May also said the process to elect a new leader will begin as early as next week, adding that she will remain as prime minister until that undertaking is completed.

However, the full election process will likely take several weeks, meaning that May will remain as a sort of caretaker prime minister until a new leader is inaugurated. She will stay on as a Member of Parliament after she steps down as prime minister, according to reports.

“It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” said May. “It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honors the result of the referendum.”

Lead-Up to Resignation

May’s resignation is not unexpected. Members of Parliament in her own Conservative Party have been pushing her to step down.

Her announcement followed a meeting with Graham Brady, a powerful backbench Conservative leader, who informed her she would face a second no-confidence vote if she did not resign. May survived a separate vote of no confidence in December, but many still considered the vote the beginning of the end.

May has repeatedly failed to create unity on a Brexit deal, both within her own party and with the opposition Labour Party.

After more than two years of negotiations, May first put a Brexit deal before Parliament in January, but MPs voted against the deal by a 230 vote margin – the biggest defeat in Parliament’s history.

She proposed a second deal in March, but that deal was again defeated, though with a smaller margin of 149 votes. After the second deal failed, May tried a new tactic: she promised that if the deal passed, she would resign.

While this option seemed to appeal to the factions in her Conservative Party that favored her resignation, she still did not get enough votes to pass the third iteration of the deal. May tried for a final time to reach a deal last week, telling Conservative MPs that she would set a date for her resignation after Parliament approved a fourth Brexit deal.

The final straw came earlier this week when May’s “new” deal failed to satisfy both parties yet again. May later backed down after it became clear that the fourth deal, like the three before it, was inevitably doomed.

What Next?

May’s resignation will now usher in the race for a new Prime Minister.

Already, a number of Conservative candidates are vying to take May’s spot as prime minister. Some even campaigned for the position before May formally announced her departure. The current front-runner for the position is former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who lead the Brexit campaign in 2016.

Others are expected to run, and the timeframe for the election process depends on how many people put their hats into the ring.

Candidates must be nominated by two other MPs to run. In the case of only one candidate, that person automatically becomes the new leader. If there are more than two candidates, lawmakers vote to choose two candidates.

Once the two candidates are selected, all 120,000 Conservative Party members cast their vote for the next prime minister.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said in a statement that MPs would begin the voting process on June 10. He also said that the new leader is to take office before Parliament’s summer recess, which usually begins in late July.

Until then, May will remain in office. The new leader will now be tasked with negotiating and passing a successful Brexit deal before the deadline on October 31. That deadline has already been extended twice from its original March 29 date.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Vox) (BBC)

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Narendra Modi Re-Elected as Prime Minister of India

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  • India’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi won re-election in a surprising landslide victory.
  • The election, which was the biggest in the history of the world, was viewed as a referendum on Modi, who many feel has not fulfilled his campaign promises from 2014.
  • Modi campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security this election and now is faced with impending economic problems, religious divisions, and increased tensions with Pakistan.

Election 2019

After six weeks of voting, the largest election in the history of the world has come to a close with incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning his re-elected by a landslide.

With almost all of the votes counted, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats in India’s 543-seat Parliament, which is much more than the 272 seats required for a majority.

Source: Google

The vote count is expected to wrap up later today, but Modi has already declared victory, writing  “India wins yet again!” in a tweet before appearing on stage to give a formal victory speech a few hours later.

Modi’s opponent, Rahul Gandhi, who is the leader of the opposition Congress Party, formally conceded the election in a news conference. “I said during the campaign that the people were the masters, and today they have given their verdict,” he said. “We concede in this election that Narendra Modi and the BJP have won.”

Gandhi also took to Twitter to congratulate Modi.

Narendra Modi

Modi may have won by a landslide, but his huge victory came as a surprise.

Before the election, the majority of analysts had predicted that the BJP would lose seats in Parliament. Now, it looks like the BJP is actually set to win more seats than they had before.

Many viewed this election as a sort of referendum on Modi, who is a strong Hindu nationalist. Modi and the BJP were first elected back in 2014 and they were extremely popular. In fact, they were so popular that the BJP became the first political party to win an outright Parliament majority in 30 years.

Modi is considered a hard-working, charismatic leader, with humble roots as a tea-seller. In 2014, he campaigned on improving India’s economy and cracking down on corruption. However, those promises have been largely unfulfilled.

Modi has not delivered nearly as many jobs as he has promised. Unemployment in India has also grown to 7.2 percent in the last year alone and the unemployment rate is currently the highest it has been in 45 years.

Modi also promised to double the income of farmers, who played a large role in electing him in 2014. However, in the last few years, India has seen the continued trend of farmers’ operating costs going up while incomes have gone down.

In fact, some of Modi’s economic and anti-corruption policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he instituted a sweeping demonetization policy that involved pulling 86 percent of India’s cash from circulation.

He argued that it would crack down on money that had not been taxed and fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist organizations, but India’s economy is largely cash-based, so the move ultimately hurt businesses and the poor.

Experts have said the policy did not actually hit the kind of money it targetted.

2019 Election

One campaign promise Modi did fulfill while in office was pushing and implementing Hindu nationalist policies.

As a result, in the 2019 election, he campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security, telling voters that he was the only one who would protect India’s security and combat terrorism. In that regard, India’s recent conflict with their main rival and neighbor Pakistan seems to have helped him.

In February, a militant group attacked an Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. Modi responded by promising forceful retaliation and later claimed his government had struck a major terrorist training camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, killing “a very large number” of militants.

While Pakistan has denied that a camp was hit, Modi’s approval rating still skyrocketed from 32 percent to 63 percent.

What Now?

Modi’s strong brand of nationalism and his national security platform seemed to have propelled him to Thursday’s huge win, but despite his success, Modi’s troubles are far from over.

Now, Modi and the BJP will have more pressure to address India’s economic problems. In addition to growing unemployment, many fear that India’s economy is slowing and that the country could be heading into a recession. That will be exacerbated as Modi faces demands to provide jobs for the millions of young people who are now entering the workforce.

Modi’s win is also expected to widen religious divisions in the country. His brand of staunch Hindu nationalism is appealing to large swaths of India’s population.

While India is about 80 percent Hindu, it is also home to a number of other religions, and India’s religious minorities have said they have felt increasingly afraid and marginalized.

Since Modi took power, there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 44 people were killed between May 2015 and December 2018, and most of those people were Muslim.

India’s Muslim population is considerable, with around 200 million people that make up nearly 15 percent of the country. Now, Muslims in India are worried the BJP’s rise will disempower them, especially as the number of seats Muslim parties hold in Parliament is expected to fall to an all-time low.

Of course, there is also the question of Pakistan. Once it became clear that Modi was set to win the election, Pakistan’s military announced that it had successfully fired and tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

At the same time, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Modi on Twitter, and said that he will “look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Vox) (BBC)

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Canada Hires Company to Remove Its Trash After the Philippines Announced Plans to Send It Back at Its Own Expense

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  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to ship tons of trash back to Canada that he says was illegally dumped in the Philippines.
  • However, shortly after this announcement, Canada said that it would hire a shipping company to remove the trash by the end of June.
  • The trash was originally sent to the Philippians between 2013 and 2014 by Chronic Plastics, Inc., a private Canadian company.

Trash War

The Philippines announced Wednesday plans to ship tons of trash that it says was illegally dumped in Manila, back to Canada after years of waiting for something to be done.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to take 69 containers of trash back. “The government of the Philippines will shoulder all expenses. And we do not mind,” said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores.”

“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with the other countries of the world.”

Between 2013 and 2014, the approximately 2,450 tons of trash was sent to the Philippines by Chronic Plastics Inc., a private Canadian company, under the guise of being recyclables. Once it arrived in Manila, inspectors found that the containers were filled with “non-recyclable plastics, household wastes, and adult diapers,” according to the Philippine News Agency.

Canada’s Response

After Duterte’s announcement, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that the government had hired Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the trash by the end of June.

McKenna also said that all the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste will be covered by the Canadian government.

As of now it is unclear which country’s plan will be implemented.

Past Moves

Over the years Canada and the Philippines have been in multiple talks to find a solution for the trash. Last month, Duterte threatened to go to war over the trash.

We’ll declare war against them,” Duterte said, “I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”

Check out our past coverage on the trash war.

Earlier this month, Canada missed a May 15th deadline to repatriate the trash and the Philippines removed top diplomats from the country. This trash issue is not the only conflict the two countries have had. Last year the Philippines canceled a multimillion-dollar agreement for 16 helicopters after Canada questioned their intended use.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CBC) (CNN Philippines)

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