French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand’s premier Jacinda Ardern will host other world leaders and leading tech chiefs on Wednesday to launch an ambitious new initiative aimed at curbing extremism online.
The initiative, known as the ‘Christchurch call’, was pushed by Ardern after a self-described white supremacist gunned down 51 people in a massacre at two mosques in the New Zealand city in March, the country’s worst atrocity of recent times.
Participants will be asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.
The political meeting will run in parallel to an initiative launched by Macron called ‘Tech for Good’ which will bring together 80 tech chiefs in Paris to find a way for new technologies to work for the common good.
The summit comes as there is a growing realisation that the current abuse of social media by extremists must be countered, after the Christchurch attacker broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
Dorsey but no Zuckerberg
Ardern has been the driving force behind the Paris summit following the tragedy.
The New Zealand leader earned huge international prominence and respect after the attacks by reaching out to Muslim communities at home and vowing a widescale crackdown on extremist content.
Other key leaders attending include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
Prominent figures from tech and social networks will also be present, most notably Twitter founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey, who will also have bilateral talks with Ardern.
However, to the disappointment of some, a notable absentee will be Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, who held talks in Paris with Macron last week.
The social network giant, under fire from all quarters over its response to violent extremist content, will instead by represented by its vice president for global affairs and communications Nick Clegg, the former British deputy premier.
The Christchurch call meeting is to get underway around 1400 GMT and finish with a press conference by Ardern and Macron at 1600 GMT.
The Tech for Good meeting will also be attended by the CEO of ride hailing app Uber Dara Khosrowshahi, who will later have bilateral talks with Macron.
In an opinion piece in The New York Times over the weekend, Ardern said the Christchurch massacre underlined “a horrifying new trend” in extremist atrocities.
“It was designed to be broadcast on the internet. The entire event was livestreamed… the scale of this horrific video’s reach was staggering,” she wrote.
Ardern said Facebook removed 1.5 million copies of the video within 24 hours of the attack, but she still found herself among those who inadvertently saw the footage when it auto-played on their social media feeds.
“(We’re) asking both nations and private corporations to make changes to prevent the posting of terrorist content online, to ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks,” she wrote in The Times.
New Zealand officials said she found a natural partner for the fight against online extremism in Macron, who has repeatedly stated that the status quo is unacceptable.
“Macron was one of the first leaders to call the prime minister after the attack, and he has long made removing hateful online content a priority,” New Zealand’s ambassador to France, Jane Coombs, told journalists on Monday.
“It’s a global problem that requires a global response,” she said.
A French presidential source said it was time for tech companies to “anticipate how their features will be exploited.”
Firms themselves will be urged to come up with concrete measures, the source said, for example by reserving live broadcasting to social media accounts whose owners have been identified.