Peter Williams: Is the Christchurch call really that progressive?

Opinion 16/05/2019

So we have made the Christchurch Call, a pledge committing governments and tech companies to a range of measures to try and reduce the amount of terrorist and violent content on the internet.

17 countries and 8 tech companies have signed up, but not the US.

The White House put out a statement on the Paris pledge though, and it was as pointed a put down, almost an insult, by the Trump Administration as you could get.

It says “the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the call.”

Which is all very nice, but it’s actually just saying, they don't care.

They mean we have more important matters to worry about than some touchy feely talk fest in Paris.

But then it makes a few very pointed comments that the USA is actually a way ahead of the game in this business of trying to get terrorism and violence off the internet.

Because the White House Statement goes on to say  “In September 2017, the United States and the other 28 members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum endorsed the Zurich-London Recommendations on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online, a document laying out non-binding recommendations for combating terrorist content online.

On February 26, 2019, the U.S. joined His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan—one of our most capable and effective partners in developing credible, alternative narratives—for an Aqaba Process meeting along with companies, civil society organizations, and foreign partners to advance our collective terrorism prevention efforts.”

So what the US is telling everybody that your meeting in Paris is all very well, but we were doing this stuff nearly two years ago, and we actually moved it ahead even further in February of this year.

So what has happened overnight in Paris is far from ground breaking.

You can see why the US couldn’t be bothered rocking up in Paris. They’ve already done what this meeting has set out to do.

And this came from the US statement too:

“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Which isn’t all that different from these Jacinda Ardern words:

“The Call acknowledges that government regulation alone will not solve the problem. We need to harness the tech companies’ creativity and technical know how to find solutions while ensuring internet freedoms are maintained and that we protect the internet as a force for good.”

Jacinda Ardern also said this morning in her speech “Today is just the first step towards a shared goal of eliminating terrorist content online.”

That  is simply not true, as you’ve just heard, the US and 28 other nations started an almost identical process almost two years ago.

This meeting in Paris today was far from groundbreaking, but it’s shifted a lot of attention from failing government policies at home.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Mornings.