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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)  



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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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