- Countries and tech companies came together in Paris on Wednesday to sign a global pledge dubbed the Christchurch Call.
- The symbolic document lays out new efforts to combat the spread of violent extremism and terrorist content online.
- The White House has chosen not to endorse the pledge, citing respect for freedom of expression, but said it supports its overall goals.
The Christchurch Call
The U.S. will not join a pledge signed by over a dozen countries and major tech companies to stand against online terrorism and extremism in the wake of the deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand.
The Christchurch Call is a pledge that was unveiled Wednesday in Paris by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron. The two announced their partnership on the pledge last month, saying that they hoped to work with other countries and tech companies to agree on ways to stop social media sites from being used to promote terrorism and violent extremist content.
The pledge is named after the New Zealand city that was attacked on March 15, when a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch while live streaming the attack on Facebook.
The reposting and sharing of the footage was a massive issue for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. Facebook, for instance, said they removed about 1.5 million copies of the footage within 24 hours.
What was pledged?
Ardern and Macron were joined by other world leaders, as well as representatives from tech giants to discuss ways to improve their current efforts to tackle online extremism.
The signatories signed a largely symbolic document, agreeing to enforce existing law on the dissemination of this type of content, while also respecting tech industry standards and government regulations.
“All action on this issue must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression,” the pledge says.
“It must also recognise the internet’s ability to act as a force for good, including by promoting innovation and economic development and fostering inclusive societies.”
The text of the initiative outlines “collective, voluntary commitments” from governments and internet companies and does not include penalties for those that do no comply.
Britain, Canada, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, Indonesia, and other nations have backed the action, along with some of the world’s biggest tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft.
The tech giants promised to update their terms of service to “expressly prohibit the distribution of terrorist and violent extremist content” and said they would develop crisis protocols to better respond to active events like a terror attack.
The companies also said they would commit to releasing “transparency reports” on the detection and removal of extremist content and study how their algorithms sometimes promote that content.
“Terrorism and violent extremism are complex societal problems that require an all-of-society response,” the companies said in a joint statement. “For our part, the commitments we are making today will further strengthen the partnership that governments, society and the technology industry must have to address this threat.”
Why didn’t the U.S. Join?
President Trump did not attend Wednesday’s summit and the White House later released a statement announcing that the U.S. will not be signing onto the pledge.
“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call,” the statement said. “We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the Internet.”
The White House also cited concerns over free speech protections, saying: “We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
“We maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging,” the statement continued.
Facebook Already Making Changes
Before the Paris summit, Facebook released a new policy change aimed at curbing the spread of violent extremism. The company rolled out a “one-strike” policy, that blocked users who violate their community standards from using its Facebook Live feature for a set amount of time.
See what others are saying: (Time) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists for Controversial Holocaust Video
- Al Jazeera posted a video on their youth-focused channel AJ+ that said Jewish people had intentionally misrepresented how bad the Holocaust was for them, and claimed that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”
- The video, which was in Arabic, attracted widespread condemnation after a U.S.-based nonprofit called The Middle East Media Research Institute posted a translated version of it.
- Al Jazeera removed the post and suspended two journalists involved with making the video.
Qatar-based multination publication Al Jazeera suspended two journalists who published a video that claimed Jewish people deliberately exaggerated the Holocaust so that Israel could benefit.
The video was posted on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, Al Jazeera’s youth-focused channel that creates short video explainers designed for social media. It was reportedly posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for AJ+ and received hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down.
The video was posted in Arabic, but it started to get backlash after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, posted an English translation of the video.
After the video started receiving criticism, Al Jazeera tweeted that they deleted the video because it “violated the editorial standards of the Network.”
The following day, the publication said in a statement that it “has taken disciplinary action and suspended two of its journalists” over the video.
“Dr. Yaser Bishr, Executive Director of Digital Division, stated that Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material on any of the Network’s platforms,” the statement said. “In an email to staff he also called for the mandatory bias training and awareness program.”
The statement also said that Dima Khatib, the Managing Director of AJ+ Channels, claimed that “the video was produced without the due oversight,” and added that workflows were being reviewed.
According to MEMRI’s, the video was posted with the caption, “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?”
Based on MEMRI’s translations, the video starts out with the narrator saying, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement.” The narrator then goes on to explain what happened in the Holocaust, describing the persecution of Jews and other groups.
Then the narrator says that the Jews were only part of the many groups murdered by the Nazis and asks, “So why is there a focus only on them?”
“Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” she continued.
She then claims that the number of people who died in the Holocaust is still being debated today and asks the question: “How did Israel benefit from the Holocaust?”
The narrator goes on to discuss the 1933 Transfer Agreement, where Zionist groups negotiated with Nazis to allow thousands of German Jews to leave for Palestine, and then makes the argument that Israel greatly benefited from this.
“Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians,” the narrator said.
She concludes the video by asserting that the idea behind the “State of Israel” comes from concepts “that suckled from the Nazi spirit and its main notions.”
Following the incident, numerous people took to Twitter to condemn Al Jazeera.
Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the video “the worst kind of pernicious evil” in a tweet, and argued that it “perpetuates hatred of Israel and the Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, also expressed disdain in a tweet, writing that the video was “spreading lies about it & about Israel, specifically on #Ramadan in order to incite the masses.”
Others outside of Israel also criticized Al Jazeera. Donald Trump Jr. joined in on Twitter, writing, “Al-Jazeera is now openly publishing Holocaust Denial videos on their facebook page. Will @facebook take action & ban them for this like they’ve done to conservatives for far less?“
Al Jazeera English v. Al Jazeera Arabic
Others who criticized Al Jazeera on Twitter highlighted the differences between the publication’s English networks, like Al Jazeera English and AJ+ English, and their Arabic-language networks and content.
One user posted screenshots of the video posted to AJ+ Arabic next to a video about a Holocaust survivor posted on AJ+ English the same day.
“Don’t be fooled by AJ‘s polished facade for its gullible Western audience,” another user wrote on Twitter. “AJ isn’t news, it’s state-controlled propaganda.”
This discussion was also hit on in an article published by BBC. In the article, BCC notes that Al Jazeera English is known for its “varied coverage,” and shining a light on “underreported stories.”
However, that reporting “comes in stark contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic,” the article stated, continuing that Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks often include “friendly coverage of Islamist groups – particularly favouring those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
This compare and contrast is interesting because Al Jazeera is considered a very reliable source among U.S. audiences, but at the end of the day, it is a multinational media network that is funded by the Qatari government.
If Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage is catered so differently to its Middle Eastern audiences, it inevitably raises questions about its legitimacy and reporting in the U.S.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Haaretz) (The Guardian)
Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
- Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
- The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
- Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.
Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill
Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.
The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”
The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.
Taiwan’s Progressive History
Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.
Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.
In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.
The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.
Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.
Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.
While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”
Potential Implications for the Region
Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.
With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”
However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.
Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.
Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.
Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.
That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (The Washington Post)
Modern Day Gold Rush?! What You Need To Know About This Illegal Mining Town
Imagine living in the highest elevation human settlement in the world. A place where the climate and living conditions are unlike any other. There are no roads. There is no plumbing, no running water, and no sewage disposal system.
What there is, however, is gold, tons of it. So much, in fact, that over the years, thousands of people have moved to the city with the hope of striking it rich. But even so, over 68 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Why? Watch the video to find out and learn more about the city that’s been coined, “The White Hell.”