Michael Staines
Michael Staines

22.01 15 May 2019


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The White House has refused to back an international commitment aimed at preventing the spread of violent extremist content online.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travelled to Paris this evening to sign the "Christchurch Call."

The pledge has the support of 17 Governments, the European Commission and a host of tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Drafted by the French and New Zealand governments, the action was prompted by the Christchurch terror attacks – which saw 51 people killed after a gunman opened fire in two mosques.

The attacker live-streamed part of the massacre on Facebook, leading to calls for better regulation of social media.

The sets out a range of actions to be taken by governments and online service providers to “address the issue of terrorist and violent extremist content online and to prevent the abuse of the internet as occurred in and after the Christchurch attacks.”

It notes however, that any action “must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.”

The White House this afternoon announced it would not be sending a delegate to the summit and would not sign the accord.

In a statement, the White House said it supports the overall goals of the pledge and stands “with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online.”

However, it said the US is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement.”

Yesterday the Trump administration raised concerns the plan could affect “freedom of expression and freedom of the press” and said the best way to defeat terrorism is to promote “credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Facebook, which owns Instagram and Whatsapp, said it is investing $7.5m (€6.7m) to improve technology to discover videos and photos which were manipulated to avoid detection.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed Facebook's pledge, saying: "There is a lot more work to do, but I am pleased Facebook has taken additional steps today... and look forward to a long-term collaboration to make social media safer."

The tech companies may join forces to develop technology or expand the use of shared digital signatures.

They have promised to reduce the risk that such content is livestreamed, including flagging it up for real-time review.

And they pledged to study how algorithms promote extremist content so they can intervene more quickly.


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