World leaders, tech giants join Christchurch Call initiative

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern hosted at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Wednesday a first summit for the Christchurch Call initiative aimed at curbing online extremism, news wires reported. The Christchurch Call initiative was spearheaded by Ardern after a gunman who identified himself as a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in March in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The high-level summit, attended by world leaders as well as representatives from global tech giants, comes amid a growing realisation that social media must be better regulated to prevent it from being weaponised by extremists like the one at Christchurch, who broadcast live video of the massacre on Facebook from a head-mounted camera. The Christchurch massacre “was truly unprecedented in its use of social media as a weapon in the attack and the subsequent spread of the terrorist's hateful message,” Ardern said. She called the summit a “first step” to “stop social media being perverted as a tool for terrorists and preserving it instead as a means for individuals and communities to connect”. Facebook in particular has faced withering criticism since the Christchurch attack, after the horrific footage was uploaded and shared millions of times despite efforts to remove it.

Speaking at the summit, Macron pointed out that France's calls for removing terrorist content online were initially specifically European, but the scope of the efforts has now been broadened to include New Zealand, Indonesia and Canada, as well as elements from civil society. Jordan's King Abdallah, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, British PM Theresa May, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, were among the world leaders attending the launch of the campaign against online extremism. Participants pledged to implement new measures aimed at suppressing violent or extremist content. “The dissemination of such content online has adverse impacts on the human rights of the victims, on our collective security and on people all over the world,” they said in a statement. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Microsoft president Brad Smith and Facebook VP Nick Clegg, presenting at the summit, backed its commitments. Google and its YouTube unit also joined the pledge, along with Twitter, Wikipedia, Dailymotion and Microsoft. The companies said they would cooperate on finding new tools to identify and quickly remove extremist content, such as sharing databases of violent posts or images to ensure they don't spread across multiple platforms. They also said they would explore tweaking their algorithms to prevent violent or hateful content from going viral, while making it easier for users to report harmful posts.

“For the first time, governments, international organisations, companies and digital agencies have agreed on a series of measures and a long-term collaboration to make the internet safer,” Macron's office said in a statement on the summit.

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