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US declines to join initiative to stamp out online extremism

Governments and social media companies announced on Wednesday that they would join forces to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, but the initiative was dealt a blow when the US government said it was “not in a position to join the endorsement” that comes in response to a recent terrorist attack in New Zealand.

The Christchurch Call for Action followed an ‘Online Extremism Summit’ in Paris on Wednesday where French president Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern hosted global leaders and top executives from tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google, as they sought a response to the deadly attack in March.

During the attack, a white supremacist killed 51 people across two mosques in Christchurch, livestreaming the graphic footage via Facebook’s Live service. That content was then shared widely on Facebook and on Google’s YouTube in the aftermath of the event, prompting calls from politicians for social media companies to take more responsibility for the extremist material shared on their sites.

A statement from the White House said while the US “stands with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content in the strongest terms” it said that it “is not currently in a position to join the endorsement.” It said that the US continues to be “proactive” in its efforts to fight online terrorism “while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Following the summit, online service providers committed to preventing “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.” Among other measures the tech companies pledged to review their algorithms that may drive users towards terrorist and violent content and amplify it, while accelerating academic research in this area.

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Meanwhile governments pledged to counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism through education and building media literacy, and said they would commit to ensuring effective law enforcement.


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