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Plan for Christchurch Call to target social media algorithms welcomed

By RNZ, 14 May 2021

A tech specialist says targeting social media algorithms is an important step to reduce extremist online content.

On Saturday global leaders and tech companies will meet virtually to re-define The Christchurch Call.

It's the promise initiated by Jacinda Ardern to eliminate violent extremist content online made in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019.

Big tech firms including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter all signed up to the pledge.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report she hoped to move beyond the crisis protocol space.

"Over the last two years we've put in place now mechanisms where if something like what happened to us on March 15 occurs again, there is almost a global protocol for a very quick response that means that we don't see the proliferation of harmful content that we experience."

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism was now a fully funded, full-time organisation, Ardern said.

They now wanted to look at the role of algorithms, she said.

"We saw from our Royal Commission of Inquiry for instance that the terrorist in New Zealand's case identified the way that he accessed content that led to what you could assume could be further radicalisation - and so that's a space that I'd be very keen to take our work next."

Technology commentator Paul Brislen told Morning Report it was an important move because "the algorithm is what ... the social media giants are busy protecting.

"They'll do anything to make sure they don't have to adjust the way they use maths to make money. So by tackling that issue it's a great leap forward and gets to the heart of the matter about this constant push to extremist content.

"Whether the governments can do that in isolation remains to be seen but I think having a coalition of the willing and having the US on board is a great step forward."

Americans had always objected to dealing with social media companies because they were a boon to the economy, Brislen said. They saw it as a free speech issue, he said.

"It's politics so you have to remain somewhat sceptical ... but at least if [the US] is there, they can see some of the concerns those of us around the world have."

If social media companies were serious about dealing with problematic content they would have acted a long time ago, Brislen said.

He used the removal of Donald Trump from various platforms only after he was no longer president as an example.

"The winds of change had blown and then they went with it."

This story was originally published on RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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