Summit In Paris Leads To Pledge To Fight Online Extremism

May 16, 2019
Originally published on May 16, 2019 7:09 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Yesterday, tech giants and several countries pledged to take more steps to block hate and terrorist content online. This pledge is known as the Christchurch Call. Two months ago, deadly attacks on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, were livestreamed on Facebook. Here's New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

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PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: Christchurch Call to Action, an action plan for change, is a global response to a tragedy that occurred on the shores of my country but were ultimately felt around the world.

KING: Now, the Trump administration has declined to endorse this pledge. John Edwards is New Zealand's privacy commissioner. He's on the line from Wellington, New Zealand. Good morning, Commissioner Edwards.

JOHN EDWARDS: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So let's start with the pledge. Facebook, Twitter, some other big tech companies, they all joined in. What are they agreeing to do?

EDWARDS: Well, they're agreeing to participate in joint industry and government efforts to keep the Internet open and free but to stomp out the worst excesses of extremist violence. They've agreed to do that by being transparent, by having effective means of suppressing that most harmful of content. Governments have pledged to regulate where necessary. So it's not a treaty. It's just a start. It's a pledge to recognize the great harm that can be perpetrated over these platforms and to begin to work together to address that harm.

KING: Well, as you point out, it's not legally binding. And some tech companies - Facebook jumps to mind - they faced a lot of criticism for not acting on this sooner. Do you, when you see this pledge, do you think it's going to lead to real change?

EDWARDS: I think it's a really important first step. I was one of the people who criticized Facebook, and I don't resile from that criticism. I'm really pleased to see that Facebook has come out just ahead of the Christchurch Call conference to say that it has changed its livestreaming in a way that, in fact, would have prevented the perpetrator in Christchurch carrying out that livestreaming of his atrocity. That's pretty sobering.

You know, to me, that's really an important message for the tech industry, that when there is such a predictable harm and evil use that can be put to your technology, it is incumbent upon you to think about the ways that you mitigate that before launching it. I mean, we've got there now, thankfully, in one small measure. But they should have done this months and months ago, and it's just very sad.

KING: As I said, sir, the Trump administration did not sign on to this pledge. It cited its respect for, quote, "freedom of expression and freedom of the press." Do you need the United States to sign on here? Is it important for the U.S. to agree to this?

EDWARDS: Well, it's not what I need. I'm really just a commentator here, and I don't speak for the New Zealand government, and nor is it my place to criticize the administration of the United States. But what we have seen in Christchurch overnight, our time, is a commitment from 17 governments to address this scourge. And so I think whatever else happens, a growing consensus is emerging that industry and governments around the world will be unable to ignore and I think will be compelled to join.

KING: John Edwards is New Zealand's privacy commissioner. Thank you so much.

EDWARDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.