How to regulate the Internet (vaguely)

How to fix speech on the Internet? It will take a lot more than this.

Jordan Carter (chief executive, InternetNZ) and Konstantinos Komaitis (senior director, global policy development and strategy, at the Internet Society) give some general ideas on how the Internet might be regulated to try to prevent it from being exploited by terrorists and extremists – How to regulate the internet without shackling its creativity

At its most basic, the internet is a decentralised technology, a “network of networks” that spans the globe, moving vast amounts of data and services. Its infrastructure layer is where protocols and standards determine the flow of data and enable independent networks to inter-operate voluntarily. A healthy infrastructure layer keeps opportunities open for everyone, because it is where unhindered innovation happens; where we build the technologies and the businesses of tomorrow.

The Christchurch terrorist did not put up a server to broadcast the video. Instead, he used the tools offered by the platforms most of us enjoy innocently. In other words, he did not directly use the internet’s infrastructure layer, but applications that run on top of it.

And this is exactly where the disconnect is. Most new rules and government intervention are spurred by illegal content that happen on the top layer of the internet’s infrastructure – the applications layer, where content exists and proliferates. Yet these rules would have sweeping implications for the infrastructure layers as well.

Interfering with the infrastructure layer, even unintentionally, to fix problems at the content layer creates unintended consequences that hurts everyone’s ability to communicate legitimately and use the internet safely and securely. The internet is a general-purpose network, meaning it’s not tailored to specific uses and applications. It is designed to keep networking and content separate. Current regulatory thinking on how to address terrorist, extremist and, in general, illegal content is incompatible with this basic premise.

That’s why we urge all governments working to protect their citizens from future terrorist and extremist content to focus on the layer of the internet where the harm occurs. Seeking expertise is how governments should regulate in the internet, but including only certain companies in the process could be counterproductive. All this does is cement the market power of a few big actors while excluding other, critical stakeholders.

As world and tech industry leaders gather in France for the Christchurch Call, we ask them to focus on interventions that are FIT for purpose:

Fitting – proportionate, not excessive, mindful of and minimising negative and unintended consequences, and preserving the internet’s open, global, end-to-end architecture;

Informed – based on evidence and sound data about the scale and impact of the issues and how and where it is best to tackle them, using ongoing dialogue to deepen understanding and build consensus;

Targeted – aimed at the appropriate layer of the internet and minimising the impact on the infrastructure layer, whose openness and interoperability are the source of the internet’s unbounded creativity and a rich source of future human flourishing.

That’s ok as general advice, but it provides little in the way of specific ideas on how to regulate speech and media without stifling it’s strengths.

The biggest challenge remains – how to very quickly identify and restrict hate speech and use of the Internet by extremists, without impacting on the freedom to exchange information, ideas and artistry.

Even from my own very narrow experience I know that people intent on spreading messages that many people would object to can be very determined and go to some lengths to try to work around any restrictions imposed on them.

Kiwiblog recently put in place much more monitoring and clarified what was deemed unacceptable speech, but those stated restrictions were quickly flouted, so offending comments must be being passed by people now doing the moderating.

It will require either some very smart algorithms that are able to adapt to attempts to work around them,  or a lot of monitoring and occasional intervention that would require many people all with similar levels of good judgment.

Neither approach will be perfect. I have concerns that rushing to restrict bad speech will increase impediments for acceptable speech.

 

Media watch

15 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

Ardern mastery of detail and engaging on extremist use of social media

David Farrar writes that he was invited to attend a “dialogue” on the ” Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online” at the offices of InternetNZ on Friday 10 May. He was surprised by the engagement there by Jacinda Ardern, and he was impressed by how she handled things, and how she was “over all the detail of what is a very complex landscape which is an intersection of Internet architecture, free speech issues, social media companies, behavioural incentives and issues of market dominance”.

The purpose was “engagement” and to ” to build a unified sense of purpose on constructive measures to address violent extremist content online”.

This is stuff Governments do all the time. I’ve been to a lot of these.

I was a bit surprised when I got the agenda 48 hours before the meeting and read that the PM was attending the second half of the meeting for around half an hour. That was pretty unusual for a PM to attend a consultation meeting. I figured it was mainly for optics – allow for a photo op (which was mentioned in the agenda) and allow us to hear what the Government wants to achieve directly.

As the meeting resumed after the tea break, Jacinda walked in and sat down in the circle of chairs with us. I looked around the room for her minders (as I know a few of them), and there were none there. This is pretty rare. Normally a press secretary will always be with the PM, making sure they record what is said, and also an advisor to field technical questions.

As the discussion from the first session was summarised, the PM grabbed a piece of paper and started taking notes. Not a staff member, but the PM. Then the facilitator handed the meeting over to the PM. She actually chaired or facilitated the next session herself after a brief outline of what they are trying to do. As each person made a contribution, she responded with comments or followups and kept making notes.

It dawned on me that rather than this being the PM telling us what she is doing, she was genuinely engaging with those in the room for their ideas about various issues and complexities.

She was very much over the detail of what is a very complex landscape which is an intersection of Internet architecture, free speech issues, social media companies, behavioural incentives and issues of market dominance.

The combination of her mastery of detail, her actively seeking opinions and taking her own notes, her lack of staff in the room, and also the total lack of barriers between the PM and participants (all sitting around in a circle) made everyone in that room feel they were genuinely being useful, and this wasn’t just tick the box consultation. Her performance reminded me in fact of John Key at various events, as Key had a way of talking with an audience, rather than to an audience, that was first class.

This sounds very promising, both that social media issues related to violence and terrorism may have a chance of being addressed by international leaders and online media companies, and also that Ardern is growing into the job as Prime Minister and on some issues at least she is very capable of leading.

Media watch

14 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

Attendance at Ardern and Macron’s social media summit in Paris

New Zealand prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is co-chairing a meeting with world leaders and the tech industry with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday (NZ time), to build support for Ardern’s “Christchurch Call” – a pledge to try to stop violent extremist content from spreading online.

Ardern explained her aims in an op-ed in the NY Times – see Jacinda Ardern ‘opinion’ in NY Times.

There aren’t a lot of world leaders attending in Paris – short notice would have made it difficult for some – but enough to make it a worthwhile attempt to get things rolling. Actually too many leaders may have made it more difficult to get agreement

Stuff: Who is and isn’t coming to Jacinda Ardern’s Paris summit on social media

This week’s meeting is being co-chaired by French President Macron. France is hosting the G7 Digital Summit, which sits alongside the Christchurch Call meeting.

The pledge will be launched two months to the day after the terror attack in Christchurch, which the alleged killer livestreamed on Facebook.

She will be joined by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Senegal President Macky Sall, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Ardern said talks were “ongoing” with the United States, where most of these large firms are based, but it was clear President Donald Trump would not be making the trip.

Because of a quirk of tax law however, many of the companies have vast subsidiaries based in Ireland, who are sending a leader.

Facebook itself is sending head of global affairs, and former UK deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

Zuckerberg did travel to Paris to meet Macron on Friday, who he has an ongoing relationship with.

Ardern has engaged with both Zuckerberg and Sandberg following the attack. She told Stuff it would have been preferable for Zuckerberg to attend, but she was more interested in a concrete result than who attended.

“Would we have found it preferable to have Mark Zuckerberg there? Absolutely. However the most important point for me is a commitment from Facebook. I would absolutely trade having them sign up to this than anything around a presence at this event. It’s the action that is important to us.”

Twitter is the only tech company sending its chief executive, Jack Dorsey. Microsoft is sending President Brad Smith while Wikimedia is sending Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Google is sending Senior Vice President for Global Affairs Kent Walker.

I expect that any of the tech companies would have to approve any commitments through their management so it’s unlikely the Christchurch Call summit in Paris will provide anything like a final solution to violent extremist content online, but it is a step in the right direction.

Media watch

13 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

Media watch

12 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

‘Digital and media expert group’ advising on social media regulation revealed

It has taken an Official Information Act request to reveal the members of a digital and media expert group assembled by the Prime Minister to advise her on possible regulation of social media.

Information about the objectives of the group was withheld – “I have considered the public interest considerations”, but surely secrecy is not in the public interest here.

NZ Herald (6 April 2019): Ardern changes down a gear from speedy gun reform to social media landscape

The areas of policy in which Ardern will be more deliberately paced are in regulation of social media, and other issues that impinge on media generally, free speech and the free exchange of ideas. The effects would be more wide-ranging and could be insidious.

Ardern has put together a group of digital and media experts who met with her for the first time in Auckland yesterday to discuss what happened and may be a sounding board and think tank for future policy proposals.

NZ Herald (8 April 2019):  Jacinda Ardern calls for global approach to block harm on digital platforms

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the global community should “speak with one voice” when it comes to blocking harmful content on social media platforms.

Ardern has criticised the role of social media in the Christchurch terror attack on March 15, and she met with a group of digital media experts in Auckland on Friday to learn more about the issue.

“I wanted to make sure I had the views of those that work in the [social media] space, particularly given that questions are being raised around what role New Zealand could and should play in this debate at an international level.”

Many people ‘work in the [social media] space’. Meeting with an unnamed group is only going to get a small number of views.

She said she would be happy to say who she met with, but would seek their permission to do so first.

So if people she meets with don’t want to be revealed Ardern would keep this secret?

Matthew Hooton spotted the reference to the ‘expert group’ so put in an OIA request asking who the experts were, and also who had been invited but couldn’t attend. Yesterday he received a response.

Official Information Act request relating to the digital and media expert group the Prime Minister met with on 5 April 2019.

The group provides an informal way to test policy ideas and inform government thinking about its response to the role of social media in the events of 15 March 2019 in Christchurch. The people currently involved are:

  • Jordan Carter, Chief Executive, Internet NZ
  • Nat Torkington, technologist
  • Miriyana Alexander, Premium Content Editor, NZME
  • Rick Shera, Internet and Digital Business Law Partner, Lowndes Jordan
  • Michael Wallmansberger, cybersecurity professional, independent director; Chair of the CERT NZ Establishment Advisory Board
  • Victoria Maclennan, Managing Director, MD OptimalBI Ltd; Chair of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group; Co-Chair, NZRise
  • John Wesley-Smith, GL Regulatory Affairs, Spark
  • Lizzie Marvelly, NZ Herald columnist, Villainesse.com co-founder and editor

Not all people involved in the group attended the meeting on Friday, 5 April 20129.

The Office and the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet assembled the group to have a mix of technology sector, media and legal expertise. The Government Chief Digital Officer and the Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon Dr Megan Woods, provided input on their selection.

To the question for “5. Information on future meetings and the objectives and work programme for the group”:

With regards to question five no formal work programme has been established.

Information was withheld on future meetings and the objectives, and also on these requests:

  • What were the objectives for the group at it’s first meeting?
  • All notes taken by officials or ministerial staff at the first meeting.

So until now we had a semi-secret advisory group, and the objectives and work programme are still secret.

What happened to Ardern’s Government’s promises of openness and transparency?

Ardern’s Chief of Staff closed his OIA response with:

In making my decision, I have considered the public interest considerations in section 9(1) of the Act.

From the Act:

9 Other reasons for withholding official information

(1) Where this section applies, good reason for withholding official information exists, for the purpose of section 5, unless, in the circumstances of the particular case, the withholding of that information is outweighed by other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available.

I would have thought that it was desirable in the public interest for discussions on social media regulation to be as open as possible.

Social media is used by and affects many people. This sort of secrecy on an advisory group on possible social media regulation is alarming.

Consultation should be as wide as possible, and given the medium involved, that should be easy to do.


Martyn Bradbury makes a reasonable point: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm shouldn’t an advisory board to the PM on censoring the internet require some academics and experts on civil rights and freedom of speech?

Media watch

11 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

Media watch

10 May 2019

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.