On 15 March 2019, an anti-Muslim terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 and injuring 49. Social media was immediately drawn into the incident as the gunman briefly broadcast the first attack via Facebook Live. Facebook, working with the New Zealand police, took down the footage and deactivated the Facebook and Instagram accounts of the killer, but for about 20 minutes it was distributed on the Internet and accessible globally.
In reaction to this terrible event New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is leading an effort to put an end to the distribution of online terrorist, violent extremist content. She is teaming up with the government of France purportedly to develop a global solution for moderating and eradicating terrorist content on the Internet. To reach that goal, in April Prime Minister Ardern made an announcement that the big tech corporations and nation-states will sign on to a pledge. “We are asking for a show of leadership to ensure social media cannot be used again the way it was in the March 15 terrorist attack,” Ardern said. A meeting will be held on May 15 in Paris to move toward that goal.
Despite the heavy emphasis on holding talks with “big tech companies,” New Zealand is also trying to bring civil society, the technical community and academic leaders into the talks. On 14 May, a day before the formal Christchurch Call meeting, Ardern will be meeting with civil society leaders to understand their position on this issue. A pre-summit “Voices for Action” is envisioned which includes civil society in the Christchurch Call.
This is far from perfect. We still don’t know what the content of the pledge will be. We have not been included in the Christchurch Call per se, which will be happening the day after the civil society meeting. We don’t know which civil society organizations have been invited to Voices for Action meeting. Despite this, we can consider a couple of measures to take and influence the process.
Why should civil society participate?
Clearly, civil society has not been given the role it deserves in the Christchurch Call. The French President’s speeches and initiatives, which emphasize governmental leadership, are not any consolation either. But there is hope that New Zealand will step up to enhance civil society participation. We need to be prepared for this event and other multilateral events that will be held in the future.
By now we have witnessed how governments make decisions that affect the global and open nature of the Internet. These decisions include data localization laws that limit cross border data flow, economic sanctions, protectionist measures on trading equipment, Internet shutdowns, copyright laws that lead to excessive content takedowns, and anti-terrorism laws that can lead to censorship or chilling effects on free speech.
During the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), civil society showed initiative and infused its values into the process, which helped to keep the Internet global and free. In response to State actions and initiatives on Internet-related issues, civil society has to work together, otherwise, it will allow governments and corporations to define policies and practices.
Multilateral processes may or may not lead to serious, binding outcomes. Either way, we need to be ready to influence those processes. This can’t be done by scattered initiatives and civil society organizational rivalries. We need to clarify our role in these processes and have a strong presence in the debates.
InternetNZ facilitates civil society and technical community participation
InternetNZ is the Country Code Top Level Domain manager of New Zealand (.NZ). It is coordinating the participation of civil society and the technical community in Christchurch call. It has set up an online forum that you can join and discuss your positions on the issues raised by the Christchurch Call. Your feedback and comments will be taken up by those who will participate at the Voices for Action event May 14 and if there is an opportunity, the comments can be relayed to the main meeting on May 15.
We (IGP) are planning to hold online meetings with civil society organizations and technical community to understand their positions. The dates and times will be announced later. We can also use the InternetNZ online forum to discuss the issues.
8 May: Civil society and technical community can meet online to discuss content moderation online and the Christchurch Call. The meeting will be held at 11 AM UTC. Find the dial-in info at the bottom of this page. The link to the virtual room is available here: https://bluejeans.com/
10 May: Another online meeting with civil society and the technical community. The meeting will be held at 11 AM UTC. Find the dial-in info at the bottom of this page. The link to the virtual room is available here: https://bluejeans.com/
13 May: Civil society and technical community meet in Paris to discuss the Christchurch pledge and discuss a statement (location TBD)
14 May, Voices for Action Meeting: Ardern meets with invited civil society, technical and academic community leaders in Paris
15 May, Christchurch Call meeting: New Zealand and France chair a meeting with the CEO of tech companies and nation-states leaders to sign on to “Christchurch Call”, a pledge to eradicate terrorist content online.
Issuing a Joint Statement
We intend to issue a joint statement with civil society and technical community groups involved in Internet governance on this issue and submit to the Voices for Action meeting. If a joint statement cannot be issued before the meeting, we can at least document our positions at this Google Doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ByMQScgaab4KBhr5fB_6uJ8txN9Fv77lXEbDdJTJzNE/edit?usp=sharing
Dial-in information for the online meetings:
Meeting ID 212 601 815
Dial one of the following numbers: +1.408.740.7256 (US (San Jose)) +1.408.317.9253 (US (Primary, San Jose)) (see all numbers – https://www.bluejeans.com/premium-numbers )