Trump administration refuses to join post-Christchurch shooting pledge to tackle online hate speech

White House cites 'respect for freedom of expression' in refusal to sign international agreement

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 16 May 2019 10:33 BST

Two months after the Christchurch terror attacks, the world’s biggest technology companies have made a joint pledge to tackle online extremism.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter signed up to the Christchurch Call to Action spearheaded by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

In a joint statement, the tech firms laid out a nine-point plan of concrete steps to address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content.

“The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March were a horrifying tragedy,” the statement read. “And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.”

World leaders, including France’s president Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, met in Paris as part of the Christchurch Call, though the US refused to join the international initiative and suggested it could threaten freedom of speech.

A statement by the White House said: “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.”

Donald Trump has routinely demonised journalists as “enemies of the people” and denounced critical reporting as “fake news”.

“We continue to support the overall goals reflected in the call. We will continue to engage governments, industry and civil society to counter terrorist content on the internet,” his administration’s statement added.

Earlier on Wednesday, Facebook announced its own measures to help prevent the use of its platform to share extremist content. During the March attacks, which saw 51 people killed and 50 injured, a live stream of the shootings was viewed thousands of times on Facebook before being removed.

Facebook claims its new rules concerning who is able to use its Facebook Live feature would have prevented the terrorist from streaming the shooting.

Checks on livestreaming formed one of the five “individual action” points in the tech firms’ joint pledge, along with updating their terms of use, creating more ways to report extremist content, improving AI technology to recognise such content, and publishing transparency reports.

Together with the five individual efforts, the companies agreed on four collaborative actions: developing shared technology; establishing protocols with governments for use during crises; education efforts; and working across the industry to combat hate and bigotry.

“Terrorism and violent extremism are complex societal problems that require an all-of-society response,” the statement concluded.

“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.”

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