White House won’t endorse global call to fight online extremism after New Zealand attack

The White House on Wednesday said it has declined to sign on to a global call to fight online extremism, citing concerns about freedom of speech.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron are meeting in Paris on Wednesday to rally support for the “Christchurch call,” a pledge to coordinate efforts to crack down on online terrorist content following the March attack on worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

{mosads}The shooting was livestreamed on Facebook and appeared on all of the major social media platforms.

The White House said in a statement that while it stands with the international community in “condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online,” it is not currently “in a position to join the endorsement.”

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy said in the statement that it believes the “best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech.”

“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,” the statement reads.

“We encourage technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist purpose,” it added.

The decision could open up the Trump administration to criticism it is not doing enough to combat white supremacists. 

Trump was widely condemned for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a counterprotester was killed. It also ended a Department of Homeland Security program designed to combat domestic terrorism.

The Christchurch call asks the top social media companies to step up their efforts to investigate and remove toxic online content from their platforms, and asks them to commit to share more information about online terrorism with government authorities.

Top executives with Google, Facebook and Twitter are scheduled to attend the summit. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are expected to sign the nonbinding agreement.

The effort comes after video of the New Zealand shooting spread quickly across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms earlier this year.

Major online platforms scrambled to remove the disturbing 17-minute livestream, but the video took on a life of its own. At one point, users were uploading and sharing clips as quickly as once per second, YouTube said.

Since then, lawmakers and regulators around the world have pledged to crack down on extremist content, pressing the companies to do more about the scourge of potentially radicalizing material proliferating on their platforms.

But the U.S. has walked a finer line, citing concerns over freedom of expression and signaling it is more hesitant than other countries to call for the outright removal of certain content.

Countries expected to sign the Christchurch pledge include Canada, the European Union, Senegal, Indonesia, and Jordan. 

Tags Christchurch Emmanuel Macron Facebook France livestream New Zealand New Zealand mosque shootings online extremist content

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