With this statement, Georgia Tech’s Internet Governance Project is announcing its withdrawal from the Christchurch Call Advisory Network.

The Christchurch Call was launched by New Zealand’s Prime Minister after a terrorist gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, NZ on March 15, 2019. Its goal is to limit the dissemination of terrorist, violent and extremist content (TVEC) on global social media platforms. The Call started as an inter-governmental initiative led by New Zealand and France, which drafted a set of commitments regarding the handling of TVEC in consultation with the major U.S. platforms.

While some civil society groups seeking greater suppression of hate speech online supported this initiative, many others felt excluded by the negotiations and were concerned about the way TVEC regulation might affect free expression and accurate journalism. The NZ government responded admirably to these concerns, agreeing to form a Christchurch Call Advisory Network (CCAN) late in 2019 in an attempt to make the Call a multistakeholder system. Currently, CCAN consists of 50+ civil society organizations and individuals.

CCAN is supposed to provide independent advice on the fulfilment of Christchurch Call commitments and help governments and industry balance content moderation policies with political diversity concerns and individual free expression rights.

After three years of active participation in CCAN, it is clear that it will not live up to this promise. As the signatory states do not really enforce the Call commitments, states have no real incentive to improve their behavior. Some of the governments involved do not respect the autonomy of the CCAN, and are not interested in independent advice if it is critical of their actions. Worse, we have found that too many CCAN civil society organizations will not stand up for its independence but prefer to withhold criticism to maintain privileged access to governmental policy makers.

Our withdrawal was triggered by a specific incident, which involved an attempt by CCAN to produce evaluation reports assessing member states’ compliance with the Call commitments. CCAN sent surveys to signatories and conducted desk research to assess their compliance. When the finished reports were sent to the governments, there was significant pushback. It came from more senior staff in governments and companies than had engaged with the evaluation process. Due to the objections received by the CC Call secretariat, CCAN was strongly discouraged from publishing the evaluation reports. CCAN was told that if the reports were published, some countries would refuse to engage with CCAN in the future, while interactions with others would become “more senior, more formal and more strained.” Presented with these options, a majority of the CCAN membership voted to bury its reports.

We respect the good-faith efforts of France and New Zealand to seek guidance and advice from civil society. We also respect the efforts of most of the civil society groups to stay involved. However, the independence of CCAN has been fatally compromised, in our opinion. IGP cannot justify investing additional time and labor on processes that provide only the appearance of accountability and input, not the reality. IGP is withdrawing from CCAN as of November 9, 2023, and asks to be removed from the list of CCAN members and from associated email lists.