It is almost two years since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and France’s President Emmanuel Macron launched the Christchurch Call as a response to the mosque shootings of March 15, 2019.
While the largest tech companies and a number of governments signed on in Paris to a number of initiatives aimed at stopping the spread of extremist content online, the Christchurch Call was voluntary in nature. How effective could it be without binding requirements and real accountability?
A community consultation report on the Christchurch Call summarises progress to date and while it mainly involves self-reflection from the stakeholders involved in the project, it’s a usefully summary of the tangible changes that have emerged – and the considerable work still ahead.
With 50 countries and 10 tech companies now signed up to the Christchurch Call, it has far from universal support. But with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft all on board, it has the attention of the tech giants who have the responsibility to prevent extremism from proliferating on their platforms.
The Christchurch Call has led to protocols being put in place for crisis incidents and the tech companies involved reformed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism into an independent group. It appears to be mainly responsible for hosting innovation working groups on topics such as developing hash databases – unique digital fingerprints of known violent terrorist imagery and videos.
Its governing board includes representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft.
The TVEC problem
There is increased collaboration between governments, companies and civil society according to the report and an increased level of research to inform efforts to tackle the problem of what they dub “TVEC” – terrorism, violence and extremist content.
In a survey of Christchurch Call participants, 59% of the 34 respondents considered the efficacy of the Christchurch Call to be “good” or “very good”, while 38% considered it to have been “average”.
In summarising their progress, suggested increased multi-stakeholder efforts were the initiative’s greatest achievement, followed by greater international awareness of the issue and greater capability to tackle extremism in the online world.
Tech companies including Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Daily Motion, Microsoft said they had taken efforts to prevent the upload, live stream and dissemination of TVEC on their platforms directly as a result of the Christchurch Call.
Since the March 15 shootings, some countries have enacted legislation that specifically criminalises the spreading of TVEC material.
While the narrow issue of live-streamed content has benefited from a sustained focus, there are clearly broader issues that need attention.
“We must continue to work towards better understanding the algorithms that promote content online, to identify intervention points and prevent exploitation by malicious actors,” Ardern and Macron note in their executive summary.
“We must also ensure that we take a consistent view of terrorist and violent extremist content – one that accounts for a range of media, whether still images or live broadcasts, and that addresses content propagated outside a live emergency response,” they add.
So effectively a B+ pass mark based on a limited self-assessment. That’s not bad for an effort that was kicked off within weeks of the tragedy by our small nation.
But no one seems to be under any illusions that they have a handle on the problem of extremist content spreading online and causing harm in the process.