Collaboration between tech companies and governments mooted in Christchurch Call

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom she is hosting the summit.
MUSTAFA YALCIN/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom she is hosting the summit.

Tech companies and governments could work together on a huge scale to combat extremist content following this week's Christchurch Call.

This work would help inform a response that combats not just overtly extreme content but also the slow path of radicalisation through more coded content, suggested progressively to users through social media algorithms. 

It's understood one of the sections of the proposed agreement focuses on collaboration between major tech companies like Twitter and Youtube, and governments.

This follows sections on what tech companies and governments are doing independently.

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HENRY COOKE/STUFF
The prime minister says she is interested in whether tech companies are monetising hate.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is in Paris for the Christchurch Call summit this week, with a meeting to sign the agreement overnight on Wednesday (NZ time).

Signoff is expected from all of the tech companies attending, along with the governments sending representatives, and two others who are not sending a leader  - likely to be Germany and Australia.

It is believed this would be the first time governments and tech companies have worked together to combat extremism on this scale before, although the work could draw on earlier collaborative efforts to combat child sexual exploitation.

That work could involve pooling information between governments and tech companies on certain signifiers of extremist behaviour, as these are often coated in multiple layers of irony and in-group referencing, making them hard for platforms to always spot and moderate out.

The Government is interested not just in the more overtly extreme content - such as the livestreamed murder - but also the rabbit holes that can lead people to extreme views - known online as "redpilling".

That pooled information could be useful to help build systems that automatically filter the content out, although this is a very large challenge that must be balanced against any free speech concerns.

But these kinds of specifics are unlikely to covered by the non-binding document, which will work as more of a set of voluntary commitments by governments and tech companies.

The Government have been cautious to note that the agreement would mostly help companies enforce standards they already hold. 

Care has been taken not to make the agreement too ambitious by for instance attempting to stop misinformation online, but instead keep it focused to extreme terrorist content.

Ardern has repeatedly described a "Christchurch test" for the agreement - would this have helped stop the Christchurch attack and its subsequent livestreaming, or not?

However there is understanding that a problem this large cannot be solved with a single document - or necessarily "solved" at all.

Ardern is interested in the parties to meet again at the UN General Assembly in September to check progress.

"If we want to make a meaningful difference New Zealand can't do it alone," Ardern said yesterday.

She had not endorsed the approach of handing out big fines for tech companies who breach standards, a regulatory approach being followed elsewhere.

But she is keen to pry into the algorithms that drive what users see on various social media companies, which are complex and opaque.

In a report released on the eve of the trip two authors from the Helen Clark Foundation said that extreme or hateful content was often very lucrative to technology companies, because it was highly engaged with. This meant the companies had a commercial imperative to not regulate it too harshly, even if it broke their own restrictions.

"We've got to be able to have that conversation around whether commercial imperatives are driving certain behaviours that are ultimately harmful," Ardern said in response to the report.

"The issue of revenue comes back to algorithms, and there is a lack of transparency there and I think that it is only fair that we start to question that."

The Government is interested in the wider picture of extremism online - including radicalisation.

The call is a direct response to the huge spread of the livestream of the Christchurch terror attack, which was uploaded to various platforms hundreds of thousands of times.

The reach was so strong that even Ardern herself saw a portion of the video.

Before and after the meeting Ardern will separately meet with the king of Jordan, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, UK prime minister Theresa May, and Norwegian prime minister Elna Solbert.

Stuff