Governments And Internet Companies Agree On Questionable Voluntary Pact On Extremist Content Online

from the well-meaning-but-misguided dept

Yesterday, there was a big process, called the Christchurch Call, in which a bunch of governments and big social media companies basically agreed to take a more proactive role in dealing with terrorist and violent extremist content online. To its credit, the effort did include voices from civil society/public interest groups that raised issues about how these efforts might negatively impact freedom of expression and other human rights issues around the globe. However, it's not clear that the "balance" they came to is a good one.

A free, open and secure internet is a powerful tool to promote connectivity, enhance social inclusiveness and foster economic growth.

The internet is, however, not immune from abuse by terrorist and violent extremist actors. This was tragically highlighted by the terrorist attacks of 15 March 2019 on the Muslim community of Christchurch – terrorist attacks that were designed to go viral.

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.

The "Call" is not binding on anyone. It's just a set of "voluntary commitments" to try to "address the issue of terrorist and violent extremist content online and to prevent the abuse of the internet...." There are a set of commitments from governments and a separate set from social media companies. On the government side the commitments are:

Counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism by strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of our societies to enable them to resist terrorist and violent extremist ideologies, including through education, building media literacy to help counter distorted terrorist and violent extremist narratives, and the fight against inequality.

Ensure effective enforcement of applicable laws that prohibit the production or dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content, in a manner consistent with the rule of law and international human rights law, including freedom of expression.

Encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online, to avoid amplifying terrorist and violent extremist content.

Support frameworks, such as industry standards, to ensure that reporting on terrorist attacks does not amplify terrorist and violent extremist content, without prejudice to responsible coverage of terrorism and violent extremism.

Consider appropriate action to prevent the use of online services to disseminate terrorist and violent extremist content, including through collaborative actions, such as:

  • Awareness-raising and capacity-building activities aimed at smaller online service providers;
  • Development of industry standards or voluntary frameworks;
  • Regulatory or policy measures consistent with a free, open and secure internet and international human rights law.

That mostly seems to stop short of demanding content be taken down, though that last point teeters on the edge. On the social media side, there is the following list of commitments:

Take transparent, specific measures seeking to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content and to prevent its dissemination on social media and similar content-sharing services, including its immediate and permanent removal, without prejudice to law enforcement and user appeals requirements, in a manner consistent with human rights and fundamental freedoms. Cooperative measures to achieve these outcomes may include technology development, the expansion and use of shared databases of hashes and URLs, and effective notice and takedown procedures.

Provide greater transparency in the setting of community standards or terms of service, including by:

  • Outlining and publishing the consequences of sharing terrorist and violent extremist content;
  • Describing policies and putting in place procedures for detecting and removing terrorist and violent extremist content.

Enforce those community standards or terms of service in a manner consistent with human rights and fundamental freedoms, including by:

  • Prioritising moderation of terrorist and violent extremist content, however identified;
  • Closing accounts where appropriate;
  • Providing an efficient complaints and appeals process for those wishing to contest the removal of their content or a decision to decline the upload of their content.

Implement immediate, effective measures to mitigate the specific risk that terrorist and violent extremist content is disseminated through livestreaming, including identification of content for real-time review.

Implement regular and transparent public reporting, in a way that is measurable and supported by clear methodology, on the quantity and nature of terrorist and violent extremist content being detected and removed.

Review the operation of algorithms and other processes that may drive users towards and/or amplify terrorist and violent extremist content to better understand possible intervention points and to implement changes where this occurs. This may include using algorithms and other processes to redirect users from such content or the promotion of credible, positive alternatives or counter-narratives. This may include building appropriate mechanisms for reporting, designed in a multi-stakeholder process and without compromising trade secrets or the effectiveness of service providers’ practices through unnecessary disclosure.

Work together to ensure cross-industry efforts are coordinated and robust, for instance by investing in and expanding the GIFCT, and by sharing knowledge and expertise.

Facebook put up its own list of actions that it's taking in response to this, but as CDT's Emma Llanso points out, it's missing some fairly important stuff about making sure these efforts don't lead to censorship, especially of marginalized groups and individuals:

In response to all of this, the White House refused to join with the other countries who signed on to the voluntary commitments of the Christchurch Call, noting that it had concerns about whether it was appropriate and consistent with the First Amendment. That's absolutely accurate and correct. Even if the effort is voluntary and non-binding, and even if it makes references to protecting freedom of expression, once a government gets involved in advocating for social media companies to take down content, it's crossing a line. The Washington Post quoted law professor James Grimmelmann, who makes this point concisely:

“It’s hard to take seriously this administration’s criticism of extremist content, but it’s probably for the best that the United States didn’t sign,” said James Grimmelmann, a Cornell Tech law professor. “The government should not be in the business of ‘encouraging’ platforms to do more than they legally are required to — or than they could be required to under the First Amendment.”

“The government ought to do its ‘encouraging’ through laws that give platforms and users clear notice of what they’re allowed to do, not through vague exhortations that can easily turn into veiled threats,” Grimmelmann said.

And he's also right that it's difficult to take this administration's position seriously, especially given that the very same day that it refused to join this effort, it was also pushing forward with its sketchy plan to force social media companies to deal with non-existent "conservative bias." So, on the one hand, the White House says it believes in the First Amendment and doesn't want governments to get involved, and at the very same time, it's suggesting that it can pressure social media into acting in a way that it wants. And, of course, this is also the same White House, that has made other efforts to get social media companies to remove content from governments they dislike, such as Iran's.

So, yes, we should be wary of governments telling social media companies what content should and should not be allowed, so it's good that the White House declined to support the Christchurch Call. But it's difficult to believe it was doing so for any particularly principled reasons.

Filed Under: censorship, christchurch, christchurch call, extremism, free speech, human rights, social media, terrorist content, voluntary, white house
Companies: facebook, google, microsoft, twitter, youtube


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Atomike Boomba, 16 May 2019 @ 11:09am

    What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

    YOU wrote:

    "And, I think it's fairly important to state that these platforms have their own First Amendment rights, which allow them to deny service to anyone."

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170825/01300738081/nazis-internet-policing-content -free-speech.shtml

    Now, you simply cannot argue motives after your rare STATING that as absolute. -- At least not without objective readers noting that as everyone does, you actually regard corporations not as "persons" with absolute Rights but as malleable tools to be readily adjusted to achieve the societal goals that you deem right and proper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Atomike Boomba, 16 May 2019 @ 11:18am

      Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

      After thorough review, amend to:

      "you simply cannot argue motives or results not to your liking".

      Point is that you previously claimed that you / we / public have NO say in corporate choices, so you can't logically object on any grounds that "person" chooses, so long as legal.

      But of course still want them to follow your notions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        aerinai (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 11:29am

        Re: Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

        I think the point is, if Facebook, Microsoft, or any other company decides to sign up for this call, that is A-OK. If the US government backs it, potential First Amendment issues arise since they are able to curtail speech at a level an individual company cannot.

        While the plan calls for "Ensure effective enforcement of applicable laws", what it would mean in reality if the government was involved is "Ensure SELECTIVE enforcement of applicable laws against our enemies". This could be just as bad as CFAA if our government decided to draft legislation.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 7:57pm

        Re: Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

        So now just talking about it in a forum will get the bastards crashing down our doors not to mention censoring everything we say especially the disssonance most people feel about having our once ruly government now usurped.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 16 May 2019 @ 11:37am

      Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

      Corporations are designed by law to make the most maximum money aas return to their shareholders. Nowhere in this enables First Amendment Rights both in the United States or overseas. Therefore, your point has no bearing on the duties of the officers in charge of a private entity to charge or compel them to do things "that you deem right and proper" if that interferes with their duties to shareholders bottom line.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 8:00pm

        Re: Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

        Those corporations are just waiting for a chance to sue your government for billions of dollars for presumed loss of profits if anything gets in their way.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 11:51am

      Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

      Huh? Nothing I said in that original post conflicts with this. The "questionable" part is about government endorsing this. Social media companies have every right to moderate as they like. We've been entirely consistent on this point. Your failed reading comprehension changes nothing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 12:23am

        Re: Re: What's "questionable" from YOUR view?

        Just like that POS you call your wife was free to marry you.

        Real men don't need that government prenup to get laid, but real men don't settle for your class of women.

        What's the term? Oh yeah: PROVIDER CHUMP!

        Pity on any children that union yields.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 16 May 2019 @ 11:36am

    "Counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism by strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of our societies to enable them to resist terrorist and violent extremist ideologies, including through education, building media literacy to help counter distorted terrorist and violent extremist narratives, and the fight against inequality."

    Ha ha ha what a joke. Lets dissect this bovine fecal matter.
    "Counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism"
    If we learned anything from the 911 report, it was that they didnt hate us for our freedumbs they hated us because we occupied their lands and interfered with their government.

    "strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of our societies to enable them to resist terrorist and violent extremist ideologies"
    Easy for us to say when we don't live with armed forces of another nation killing our people and policing our streets.

    "including through education, building media literacy to help counter distorted terrorist and violent extremist narratives, and the fight against inequality.""
    If anything the internet and people just talking and finding out just how shitty they are living in itself is cause to make people want to fight and blow shit up.

    "distorted terrorist and violent extremist narratives"
    Says who? Who is the Decider?

    So if I am an Iraqi that has grown up under the miserable failure that is the Iraq War/Occupation/What-exactly-is-it-again? and call for my people to stand up and reclaim our homeland through violence if necessary... Who's terrorist am I? Certainly not to my own people.

    So while it would be nice top see these companies put pressure on the real reasons that spur terrorism, that will never happen. Shitty foreign policy and actions.

    Oh and that statement from ChristChurch... LOL I dont think they are. More excuses to censor content they don't like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 8:09pm

      Re:

      Easy to say when we don't have amed forces patrolling our streets...

      We have armed forcrces patrolling our streets killing our citizens here in the US. What planet are you from?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 5:19am

      Re:

      Erm... oh, dear.

      So if I am an Iraqi that has grown up under the miserable failure that is the Iraq War/Occupation/What-exactly-is-it-again? and call for my people to stand up and reclaim our homeland through violence if necessary... Who's terrorist am I? Certainly not to my own people.

      Here's the problem: the land we call Iraq was a hodge-podge put together by the British after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, and was therefore populated by a hodge-podge of people with little in common with each other.

      Saddam was a monstrous dictator with this in his favour: he kept a lid on the endemic violence in that much of it was committed by himself and his atrocious sons Uday and Qusay.

      What I'm saying is, they weren't one big happy family before the West piled in and divvied up the spoils during the invasion, they were an inch from being a failed state due to the constant religious infighting. Fun fact: the various factions love blowing up each others' holy sites and shrines.

      So then, the terrorists that roam freely through the land today committing acts of horrible violence are mostly doing this to their own people; we're in the way because we don't understand why they're doing this and our ham-fisted efforts to impose order haven't worked.

      That Daesh sprang from the Iraqi prisons set up to hold insurgents is a case in point. Look at what they do when they're not doing it to us. That's what I'm talking about. It's really not that simple.

      I can say the exact same thing for the Irish edition: they're nasty as hell to their friends and neighbours. Nationalism is only a fig leaf for criminal activity.

      I agree in full about ill-advised foreign policy since that's what created this mess back in the day and the follow-up is why it continues to haunt us now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 12:13pm

    I'm curious here. Why is it when Islamic terrorists kill hundreds of people (278 so far this Ramadan) we don't get any calls for censorship of Islam?

    Why is it when one right winger kills 51 muslims, motivated in large part by previous muslim murders, suddenly we have these sweeping calls for censorship of anyone that opposes Islam?

    Why is it that the center/center-right wing is consistently demonized, while the ultra-mega-extreme-far-right wing religion/government known as Islam is consistently mollycoddled and their crimes against humanity handwaved away?

    I suggest that it's racism. Not right wing racism mind you, but a left wing racism that assumes because muslims are supposedly brown (an assumption which is itself racist) they're not capable of moral behavior or higher thought, and therefore can't be responsible for their actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 4:20pm

      Re:

      Why is it when one right winger kills 51 muslims

      I'm sorry, the rest of us seem to think it's wrong to gun down 51 people. Doing it in the name of the right-wing just shows how the nazi party has invaded the right.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 7:24am

      Re:

      Because conflating the nutjobs with the majority is part of how we got here? Every group has its nutjobs (from ELF, to ISIL, to the alt-right, to the Speedway Bomber)...why is it that some people want to take very large groups and demonize their entireties based on the seemingly invariable fact of life that there will be a few nutjobs roaming around them?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 5:21am

        Re: Re:

        They became conflated because the right refused to disown them like sensible people. I routinely disown them only to be called a leftie.

        When they learn to clean house and keep it clean, then conservatives will regain the respect they used to have as the designated drivers they're supposed to be.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 12:27pm

      Re:

      At some point everyone will have to make a choice that could keep you out of heaven. It is certain.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 12:29pm

    Ludicrous...

    ...grandstanding.

    Non-binding, fully voluntary...

    Sounds like Vermont's incessant PSA's for teenagers to "Sign the Pledge!" not to text while driving. I guess they consider teenagers to stupid to realize that if they sign and get in an accident while texting and driving, "the Pledge" will be used against them in court.

    The same goes for this nonsense. If a country signs on, the only effect is that they'll be hounded for not following it to the letter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 1:53pm

    Hitler would of been so proud
    if he could of covered up his atrocities
    from the rest of the world .
    My have we fallen so far down the rabbit hole

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 16 May 2019 @ 2:17pm

    Fuck Censorship

    Nz Shooter Arrested: bit.ly/NzShooterArrested

    Nz Shooter Video (Yeah, it's really graphic): bit.ly/NzShooterVideo

    Nz Shooter Manifesto: bit.ly/NzShooterManifesto

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 16 May 2019 @ 3:10pm

    Hey, TechDirt. I'm curious.

    When a big pact like this is made, do you wait for the parties to fail at holding up their end of the deal, or do you begin immediately drafting the articles that will eventually be published once the parties inevitably fail?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    afn29129 David (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 3:29pm

    Tienanmen Square 2.0

    Be there ever such an event; Tienanmen Square 2.0
    Just consider the Chi-Coms asking Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/etc that any videos on such an event be suppressed .... because 'terrorism'. The Chi-Coms' definition of terrorism, to be sure. Definition creep and this has the potential to abused to suppress any content that may embarrass or ridicule or annoy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 7:14pm

      Re: Tienanmen Square 2.0

      Abused? I'm afraid definition of terrorism has always been abused by design. The US 'state sponsor of terrorism' definition had to be very carefully crafted to avoid admitting that they are guilt of it themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 8:36am

    Trump can't speak out against domestic terrorists and their supporters because he doesn't want to alienate his primary base.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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