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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

Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse

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The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.


Priest Sparks Outrage

Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.

Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.

To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.

Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.

“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.

Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”

Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.

Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims

Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.

Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.

The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.

While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”

With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.

The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.

See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)

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International

Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases

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Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.


Cases Going Up

The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.

On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.

At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.

Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.

Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.

Doubts About Government Response

The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”

However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.

“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.

He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.

Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

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

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