Jordan Carter on how to eliminate terrorist and violent material online

Jordan Carter, CEO of InternetNZ, has some ideas on how to help make Jacinda Ardern’s ‘Christchurch call’ work.

(I really wonder if labelling the attempt by Ardern to get social media companies to ‘eliminate’ terrorism online the ‘Christchurch call’ is a good idea. I think it is inappropriate.)

The Spinoff:  How to stop the ‘Christchurch Call’ on social media and terrorism falling flat

If we take that goal of eliminating terrorist and violent material online as a starting point, what could such a pledge look like, and what could it usefully achieve?

The scope needs to stay narrow.

“Terrorist and violent extremist content” is reasonably clear though there will be definitional questions to work through to strike the right balance in preventing the spread of such abhorrent material on the one hand, and maintaining free expression on the other. Upholding people’s rights needs to be at the core of the Call and what comes from it.

The targets need to be clear.

From the media release announcing the initiative, the focus is on “social media platforms”. I take that to mean companies like Facebook, Alphabet (through YouTube), Twitter and so on. These are big actors with significant audiences that can have a role in publishing or propagating access to the terrorist and violent extremist content the Call is aimed at. They have the highest chance of causing harm, in other words. It is a good thing the Call does not appear to target the entire Internet. This means the scale of action is probably achievable, because there are a relatively small and identifiable number of platforms of the requisite scale or reach.

But online media keeps changing so it will be difficult to set a clear target. I think that limiting ‘scale and reach’ to a small number of companies would be a problem, it would be very simple to work around. If there are worldwide rules on use of social media it would have to cover all social media to be effective.

The ask needs to be clear.

Most social media platforms have community standards that explicitly prohibit terrorist and violent extremist content, alongside many other things. If we assume for now that the standards are appropriate (a big assumption, one that needs more consideration later on), the Call’s ask needs to centre around the standards being consistently implemented and enforced by the platforms.

Working back from a “no content ever will breach these standards” approach and exploring how AI and machine tools, and human moderation, can help should be the focus of the conversation.

That’s not very clear to me.

There needs to be a sensible application of the ask.

Applying overly tight automated filtering would lead to very widespread overblocking. What if posting a Radio New Zealand story about the Sri Lanka attacks over the weekend on Facebook was automatically blocked? Imagine if a link to a donations site for the victims of the Christchurch attacks led to the same outcome? How about sharing a video of TV news reports on either story?

This is why automation is unlikely to be the whole answer. We also will need to think through carefully about how any action arising from the Call won’t give cover for problematic actions by countries with no commitment to the free, open and secure internet.

It will be extremely difficult to get consistent agreement on effective control between all social media companies and all countries. If there are variances there will be exploitation by terrorists and promoters of violence.

Success needs measuring and failure needs to have a cost.

There needs to be effective monitoring that the commitments are being met. A grand gesture followed by nothing changing isn’t an acceptable outcome. If social media platforms don’t live up to the commitments that they make, the Call can be a place where governments agree that a kind of cost can be imposed. The simplest and most logical costs would tend to be financial (e.g. a reduction in the protection such platforms have from liability for content posted on them). But as a start, the Call can help harmonise initial thinking on potential national and regional regulation around these issues.

How could cost penalties be applied fairly and effectively where there is a huge range of sizes and budgets of social media companies? A million dollars is small change for Facebook, a thousand dollars would be a big deal for me.

The discussion needs to be inclusive.

Besides governments and the social media platforms, the broader technology sector and various civil society interests should be in the room helping to discuss and finalise the Call. This is because the long history of Internet policy-making shows that you get the best outcomes when all the relevant voices are in the room. Civil society plays a crucial role in helping make sure blind spots on the part of big players like government and platforms aren’t overlooked. We can’t see a situation where governments and tech companies finalise the call, and the tech sector and civil society are only brought in on the “how to implement” stage.

I don’t know how you could get close to including all relevant voices. The Internet is huge, vast.

A Call that took account of these six thoughts would have a chance of success. To achieve change it would need one more crucial point, which is why the idea of calling countries, civil society and tech platforms together is vital.

I think it is going to take a lot more than this. It’s a huge challenge.

 

20 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  25th April 2019

    Beyond stupid. Most of the world is undemocratic. Dictatorships love censorship. They love to call their opponents terrorists. This proposal if enacted can only play into their hands, subvert democracies and become Orwellian.

  2. Duker

     /  25th April 2019

    Dictatorships love censorship. They love to call their opponents terrorists.
    TRUMP: “We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.”

    Who cares if Uzbekistan blocks its citizens from watching this or that content- (Borat?)
    China does this on a huge scale.
    It would broadly be whats called ‘The west’

    Arent you being ambitious PG in putting your social media site alongside Facebook, Twitter Instagram etc.
    Audience size matters in this as having a complete blackout may not be possible but 98% from the worlds top 10 sites could be.

  3. Than

     /  25th April 2019

    The problem is there isn’t much meaningful distinction between “all social media” and “the whole internet”. It’s easy for any sort of web-page to allow comments or user-posted content.

    But unfortunately you’re not wrong that only including a few big platforms would be largely pointless; extremists would just migrate to smaller platforms that allow them to express their views. Trying to keep an ever expanding list of sites to police would become a game of whack-a-mole.

    Which is why I think this whole Christchurch call exercise is futile. Like trying to hold back the tide.

    • Duker

       /  25th April 2019

      if its 98% audience reach that would be an enormous success . Thats how things work in the real world. No one cares about tiny and obscure sites that are hard to find in the first place.
      Even the census – until recently- aimed to count 98%

      “Like trying to hold back the tide.” _ ask the Dutch about that one.
      Even Downtown Auckland is protected by a sea wall – to hold back the tide

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  25th April 2019

        The only success would be in preventing terrorism. Highly unlikely your 98% would achieve that as terrorists will immediately migrate to the 2% which will probably expand. However most bureaucracy won’t care so long as it is getting paid.

        • Duker

           /  25th April 2019

          Trouble is that 2% might be 10,000 sites. Sands on a beach which go largely unnoticed
          good luck with popularizing their message to a bigger audience- their real aim.
          Apart from security services who can go after sites hosting these tiny websites.
          Look at how often the main media in NZ mention YourNZ..hardly ever.

          Its like Trump who uses Twitter , when the evidence is a large block of his strongest support doesnt use Twitter.
          Doesnt matter to him as the mainstream media does use Twitter and amplifies what he says on Twitter using their much bigger outreach.
          hes a major political figure so there wont be any blocking of his views.

          • Pink David

             /  25th April 2019

            “good luck with popularizing their message to a bigger audience- their real aim.”

            It is the act of terrorism that gains the bigger audience. The whole point is that it is a tool for tiny minorities to exert power far out of scale to their numbers,

            Any result of this call to control will not be used on potential terrorists, but simply used as a tool to suppress political opposition. It has nothing to do with terrorism.

            • Duker

               /  25th April 2019

              heaps of stuff is deleted from facebook now as being outside its own guidelines.
              https://www.facebook.com/help/477434105621119?_fb_noscript=1

              If you think that all the major social media platforms are ‘free speech ‘you are seriously deluded.

            • Pink David

               /  25th April 2019

              “If you think that all the major social media platforms are ‘free speech ‘you are seriously deluded.”

              I do not think this. I also do not believe any additional intervention by government will make anything any ‘better’, it will be done specifically in the interests of the political class. That is not going to be a good thing.

            • Duker

               /  25th April 2019

              This is what happens when wild speculation is allowed to be rampant after a terrorist massacre
              the town of Negombo, where an attack on a church during Easter services killed more than 100 people, gangs of Christian men moved from house to house, smashing windows, breaking down doors, dragging people into the streets, punching them in the face and then threatening to kill them, dozens of residents said. No deaths were reported, but many Muslims fear it is only a matter of time.. NY times

              It’s been a while since there have been pogroms in Western countries , US has had some terrible pogroms against blacks as late as the 1920s – see Tulsa race riots of 1921 where 100s killed- in Asia this is all to common

          • Gezza

             /  25th April 2019

            The msm reports of terrorist atrocities are what will continue to drive those of like mind & intent to look for the smaller sites for whatever other means of inspiration & technical or other assistance or advice that umbrella groups like AQ & IS are always looking for & finding ways to promote. The hate ideology-inspired mass murderers like these fanatical killers & Tarrant will quickly find a way to still get access to the motivational material they want to justify their abhorrent actions.

            • sorethumb

               /  25th April 2019

              Multiculturalism is unjust to begin with – requires suppression of the dominant ethnic majority trough media hegemony (progressive/advertiser). That is the argument they are trying to suppress.
              Nigel Latta was asked what keeps him awake at night he said: “the racist Trump supporters”

            • Gezza

               /  25th April 2019

              Nigel Latta seems to me these days to be not much more than a pop child psychologist. They’ve even had him fronting as a celebrity for a tv programme or two that have nothing whatsoever to do with psychology. Tbh, I wonder if what keeps him awake at night sometimes might just be imagining hearing the good old fashioned “Ka-ching !” of a cash register.

            • Pink David

               /  25th April 2019

              “Nigel Latta was asked what keeps him awake at night he said: “the racist Trump supporters””

              Somehow I don’t get the impression that those ‘racist Trump supporters’ lose a moments sleep worrying about Nigel Latta.

            • Gezza

               /  25th April 2019

              “Say what?” (Swig) Blam! Blam! Blam!

              “Nigel Goddam Who??”

              (Swig) Blam! Blam! Blam!

              “Who y’all talkin’ bout, feller??”

            • sorethumb

               /  25th April 2019

              Nigel Latta was the subject of media watch about sponsorship (?) in TVNZ. he told the corporate clients “if we got this much coverage on Youtube we would be on it”

  4. sorethumb

     /  25th April 2019

    In the case of Islamists, fellow Muslims – irrespective of their nationality – are called upon to take up arms with the objective of securing the worldwide implementation of sharia. The concept of Ummah – a global Islamic community – is used by Islamists in an effort to delegitimise nation-based loyalties and convince others to join their extremist cause. Indeed, the one Islamic sect which openly speaks of loyalty to the nation in positive terms – the Ahmadiyya community – is often the target of victimisation at the hands of orthodox Muslims who do not view Ahmadis as “proper followers” of Islam.
    https://brightblue.org.uk/dr-rakib-ehsan-battling-extremism/

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  25th April 2019

      That’s very sweeping and the fact that most Muslims don’t do this should be a hint.

    • Corky

       /  25th April 2019

      Correct. The Ahmadiyya community may as well be Jews in the eyes of fellow Muslims.
      Interesting to note when the Whaler and SB had dealings with them, they would only deal with a male***. That said the Whaler thought highly of them as people and citizens.

      *** As best as I can remember.