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Pact against online extremism gains steam

Proponents gained momentum for a new global accord to keep internet platforms from being used by extremists to organize and spread hatred and violence.

Proponents gained momentum for a new global accord aimed at keeping internet platforms from being used by online extremists to organize and spread hatred and violence.

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern led a Paris meeting at which a dozen nations and some of the world's biggest tech companies joined in the push for an international agreement to fight the online efforts of extremist groups.

The proposed global pact is named the Christchurch Call after the New Zealand city where 51 people were killed in an attack on two mosques in March. “It ultimately commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes,” Ardern told a joint news conference with Macron.

The attacker had broadcast his killings live on Facebook, which added to the public outrage and raised questions about the extent and adequacy of social media regulations. Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has since said it is cracking down on its livestream usage.

“What happened in Christchurch wasn’t just a terrorist attack. It was the transformation of the Internet into a crazy propaganda machine favoring division and war,” Macron said.

The proposed non-binding pact is supported by nations such as Britain, Canada, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, Indonesia and the European Union, and by major tech companies and content providers such as Amazon, DailyMotion, Microsoft, Qwant, Wikimedia Foundation and YouTube.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration said it agreed with the goals of the pact but would not sign it. The White House said it stands with the international community in "condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online,” but is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement.”

Better algorithms

The tech companies pledged to take steps to combat the spread of extremist content by making improvements on their algorithms and preventing any such content from being live streamed.

After the shootings, Ardern announced New Zealand would ban assault rifles, military style semiautomatic weapons and high capacity magazines. She told CNN's Christiane Amanpour while in Paris with Macron that other countries can learn from New Zealand's example.

"Australia experienced a massacre and changed their laws. New Zealand had its experience and changed its laws. To be honest, I do not understand the United States," she said.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter called the terrorist attacks in Christchurch "a horrifying tragedy" that demands action. "And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence," the businesses said in a joint supporting statement.

"The Christchurch Call announced today expands on the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), and builds on our other initiatives with government and civil society to prevent the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content," they said.

"Additionally," they continued, "we are sharing concrete steps we will take that address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content, including continued investment in technology that improves our capability to detect and remove this content from our services, updates to our individual terms of use, and more transparency for content policies and removals."