The Christchurch Call

New Zealand's Prime Minister Ardern and French President Macron, unveil the Christchurch Call to tackle terrorist and extremist violence online. Is this clarion call, a viable option to counter violent extremism and radicalisation propagated through social media.

Background

In March 2019, a suspected white supremacist live-streamed footage of him shooting innocent worshippers at various mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Hateful of New Zealand's Muslim residents, the perpetrator’s live stream was downloaded, re-uploaded and shared hundreds of times. Facebook said that within the first 24-hours of the attack, it had intervened in 1.5 million posts to restrict their proliferation. It had been viewed over 4,000 times before it was removed from the service. The attack highlighted the role social media plays in spreading extremist violence online. 

Analysis

Led by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron, world leaders and technology companies pledged to tackle terrorist and extremist violence online. Known as the Christchurch Call, the Paris summit outlined a “plan of action” for countries and companies to prevent material from going viral online. 

The “unprecedented agreement” calls on nations to introduce laws to ban offensive materials and to set guidelines on how mainstream media report acts of terror.

Britain, Canada, Australia, Jordan, Senegal, Indonesia, Norway, Ireland, the European Commission, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube, Daily Motion and Quant signed the pact. Germany, India, Japan, Holland, Spain and Sweden also expressed support for the Call. 

Reports suggest that the US refused to join because of concerns of free speech. However, President Macron said that although the US hasn’t signed up, “the US administration has said it shares our objectives.”

Facebook announced changes to its live streaming service during the summit. These changes would have meant that the Christchurch terrorist “would not have been able to live stream his act of violence.” 

The leaders said that the Christchurch Call differed from previous initiatives to restrict extremist violence from the event. This is because technology companies have participated in the Call during a period of widespread global support for such regulation. 

Counterpoint

It is unclear how effective the pact is in affecting change as the Call is voluntary and without an enforcement mechanism. It is for countries and companies to decide how it intends to honour the Call.

Assessment

Our assessment is that multilateral agreements, with the involvement of technology companies, is vital in ensuring that extremist violence stays off the internet. However, we believe that any multilateral treaty without an enforcement mechanism or details about how it is to be implemented fails to address the issue adequately. While a step in the right direction, we estimate that concerns of free speech, similar to those expressed by the US, is likely to ensure that the initiative does not get fully implemented. The borderless nature of cyberspace means that without a global, enforceable agreement, it is unlikely to be effective.