- 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)
Trudeau and Liberals Secure Shallow Victory in Snap Elections
The Prime Minister had hoped to secure a mandate for the Liberal Party and a clear legislative majority to move forward with COVID-19 recovery plans, but he will now face leading yet another minority government.
Two Elections in Two Years
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held onto power after Monday’s federal parliamentary election, but he will still lead a minority government now that his Liberal Party has again failed to secure a majority of seats.
The results mirror those of the country’s last election in 2019, and in the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many Canadians questioned why another parliamentary election was occurring so soon when the next scheduled elections would happen in another two years. The most basic answer is that Trudeau called for a snap election in August. However, reports on his reasoning vary.
Trudeau himself said he wanted a clear mandate from voters so he could move forward with efforts to lead Canada out of the pandemic and focus on recovery plans. Yet, for Conservatives and Canada’s smaller parties, this election was viewed as a blatant power-play by Trudeau to get more seats just two years after his Liberal party lost its majority.
Whatever the reason actually was, the snap-election was a gamble that doesn’t seem to have paid off. While some mail-in votes are still being counted, over 98% of the results are already in and they’ve proven to be a return to the status quo. The Liberals are gaining just one seat and the Conservatives are only losing two, while the minor parties in Canada are exchanging a few seats.
Possible Political Blunder
It’s likely that the call for a snap election was a miscalculation by Trudeau, who received high praise in polls when asked about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, in polls that looked at his overall popularity, most voters said they have a dimmer view of Trudeau.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit pollster out of British Columbia, Trudeau struggled to have a majority of voters approve of his tenure. In August, just after he called for snap election, his popularity plummeted further, with a majority of voters overtly disapproving of the Prime Minister.
As of election day, that number continued to rise.
Additionally, Trudeau’s calls for what many viewed as an unnecessary election in order to get a mandate on how to move forward against COVID-19 came off as tone-deaf since Canada is in the middle of dealing with rising Delta cases. This is an argument that the Conservatives picked up on, including leader Erin O’Toole, who called it “un-Canadian.”
There is also criticism over how Trudeau conducted his campaign. The Justin Trudeau of 2021 isn’t the same man who first gained power in 2015. Back then, Trudeau was somewhat of a Barak Obama-esque figure. He was a political underdog who ran on a platform of hopeful optimism over what could be achieved in Canada.
Fast forward to 2021, and Trudeau was less concerned about presenting his party’s hopes for the future and more concerned about sparking fears over what a Conservative government would do. His biggest fears seemed to have been the undoing of years of legislative and executive actions, including the reversal of a firearms ban.
In one rally earlier this month, Trudeau warned supporters that, “Mr. O’Toole won’t make sure the traveler sitting beside you and your kids on a train or a plane is vaccinated.”
“This is the moment for real leadership. Mr. O’Toole doesn’t lead — he misleads.”
But many of the things Trudeau attacked O’Toole and the Conservatives for are possibly no longer positions they hold. O’Toole recently took on the leadership of the Conservatives last year, and before the election, he published a 160-page document that sought to clarify his party’s positions and broaden their appeal.
One major reversal was support for a carbon tax, a traditionally Liberal Party platform. However, that manifesto seemingly wasn’t enough, as O’Toole later had to reverse course on a promise in the manifesto and clarify that the Conservatives wouldn’t actually overturn Trudeau’s ban on 1,500 sporting rifles, leading to some confusion among voters over his actual stance.
That being said, some of the major criticisms of O’Toole levied by Trudeau still stood up to scrutiny, such as his opposition to vaccine mandates or vaccine passports.
The Popular Vote Doesn’t Win Elections, Even in Canada
Another miscalculation that lead to the call for a snap election may have been a misread on how popular the Conservatives are. In 2019, the party won the popular vote, and Monday’s election seems to be another repeat. The Conservatives won just over 34% of the popular vote but only secured 35.8% of the seats in parliament. The Liberals received under 32% of the popular vote, but around 46% of parliament’s states. The disparity in the popular vote and how many seats a party actually receives has led to claims that the system is flawed and as unrepresentative as the United States’ Electoral College allegedly is.
Regardless of the representation disparity in Canada, many felt this snap election meant that Trudeau didn’t get the mandate he sought. Even so, Trudeau gave what he called a “victory speech” in Montreal, saying, “You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic.”
Trudeau will likely need to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic Party to secure enough seats to form a majority government, although there are concerns that such a government could fall, as minority governments are notoriously fragile.
Such a situation would mean that this snap election may prove to be a political pitfall for Trudeau.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)
U.S. Will Ease Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated Foreign Passengers
The move will allow Americans with family abroad to reunite with loved ones who they have been restricted from seeing since early 2020.
U.S. Changes Policy for Foreign Visiters
The White House has said it will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreign visitors coming to the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Along with proof of vaccination, White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday that noncitizens will also have to show a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure.
The announcement ends an 18-month ban on travel from more than 30 countries, including the UK and members of the EU. That ban has been a major source of tension with Europe because European and British officials lifted entry restrictions on people from the U.S. and other countries in June after vaccines became widely available. Up until now, the Biden administration hadn’t reciprocated.
Many experts found the policy hard to understand since some countries with high COVID rates were not on the restricted list while some that had the pandemic more under control were.
Tensions further escalated last month when the EU removed the U.S. from its safe travel list, though that was a nonbinding order that recommended EU nations to restrict U.S. travelers.
It’s also worth noting that the Biden Administration’s latest announcement came as the president prepared to meet face-to-face this week with world leaders at the United Nations.
The UN General Assembly is set to include European leaders who have voiced additional frustration over the administration’s handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. On top of that, France is enraged by a U.S. deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which France said undercut its own agreement with that country.
In addition to the changes regarding foreign travelers, the White House has said it will tighten rules for unvaccinated U.S. citizens returning home, saying they now need to test negative one day before departure and schedule another test for after their arrival.
In the coming weeks, the CDC will also be requiring airlines to collect and provide passenger information to aid contract tracing.
There will be a few exemptions to the vaccination requirements for foreign visitors, including ones for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Still, full details of the policy have not yet been released.
The changes have long been called for by airlines and others in the travel industry who are now cheering the news, especially ahead of the holiday season.
The move means Americans will likely see a boost in travel as the year comes to a close, but for many with family abroad, it also means they can finally reunite with loved ones who they’ve been restricted from seeing since early 2020.
See what others are saying:(The Washington Post)(Axios)(The Wall Street Journal)
Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off
The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.
Voting App Removed From App Stores
Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.
The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.
For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.
People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.
Response and Backlash
Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.
“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”
Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”
Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.
“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.
Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies
The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.
In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.
In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies.
The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.
Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.