New Zealand & France Unite Against Online Extremism
- 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)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.