Internet bosses join Prime Minister in pressuring social media platforms to take more responsibility for the content they host

Internet bosses join Prime Minister in pressuring social media platforms to take more responsibility for the content they host

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is continuing to speak out strongly against social media platforms, as it becomes increasingly clear the Christchurch terror attacks were conceived of the internet, for the internet.

As well as expressing her condolences in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, she said: “We will look at the role social media played and what steps we can take, including on the international stage, and in unison with our partners.

“There is no question that ideas and language of division and hate have existed for decades, but the form of distribution, the tools of organisation, they are new.

“We cannot sit back and accept these platforms just exist, that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place they are published.

“They are the publisher, not just the postman.

“There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.

“This of course doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation to confront racism, violence and extremism.”

The accused killer, who Ardern said would be “nameless” when she spoke, live streamed a video of the shooting. Facebook, as well other social media platforms, struggled to delete it as it was re-uploaded more than a million times.

A lengthy “manifesto” was also circulated by the accused killer.

Ardern at a post-Cabinet press conference on Monday afternoon (see video at top of story) said that over the weekend she was told Facebook had removed 1.5 million uploads of the video.

The removal of 1.2 million of these was automatic, while the rest were removed manually. Facebook didn’t indicate how many videos it may have failed to take down.

“My view is there’s more that can and should be done,” Ardern said.

Corporates rally

The bosses of New Zealand's internet providers have backed Ardern, urging the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to "proactively monitor for harmful content, act expeditiously to remove content which is flagged to them as illegal and ensure that such material – once identified – cannot be re-uploaded". 

Spark managing director Simon Moutter, Vodafone NZ CEO Jason Paris, and 2degrees CEO Stewart Sherriff have made these calls in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai:

You may be aware that on the afternoon of Friday 15 March, three of New Zealand’s largest broadband providers, Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees, took the unprecedented step to jointly identify and suspend access to web sites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman related to the horrific terrorism incident in Christchurch. 

As key industry players, we believed this extraordinary step was the right thing to do in such extreme and tragic circumstances. Other New Zealand broadband providers have also taken steps to restrict availability of this content, although they may be taking a different approach technically.

We also accept it is impossible as internet service providers to prevent completely access to this material. But hopefully we have made it more difficult for this content to be viewed and shared - reducing the risk our customers may inadvertently be exposed to it and limiting the publicity the gunman was clearly seeking. 

We acknowledge that in some circumstances access to legitimate content may have been prevented, and that this raises questions about censorship. For that we apologise to our customers. This is all the more reason why an urgent and broader discussion is required. 

Internet service providers are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, with blunt tools involving the blocking of sites after the fact. The greatest challenge is how to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media platforms and forums.

We call on Facebook, Twitter and Google, whose platforms carry so much content, to be a part of an urgent discussion at an industry and New Zealand Government level on an enduring solution to this issue.

We appreciate this is a global issue, however the discussion must start somewhere. We must find the right balance between internet freedom and the need to protect New Zealanders, especially the young and vulnerable, from harmful content. Social media companies and hosting platforms that enable the sharing of user generated content with the public have a legal duty of care to protect their users and wider society by preventing the uploading and sharing of content such as this video. 

Although we recognise the speed with which social network companies sought to remove Friday’s video once they were made aware of it, this was still a response to material that was rapidly spreading globally and should never have been made available online. We believe society has the right to expect companies such as yours to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Content sharing platforms have a duty of care to proactively monitor for harmful content, act expeditiously to remove content which is flagged to them as illegal and ensure that such material – once identified – cannot be re-uploaded. 

Technology can be a powerful force for good. The very same platforms that were used to share the video were also used to mobilise outpourings of support. But more needs to be done to prevent horrific content being uploaded. Already there are AI techniques that we believe can be used to identify content such as this video, in the same way that copyright infringements can be identified. These must be prioritised as a matter of urgency.

For the most serious types of content, such as terrorist content, more onerous requirements should apply, such as proposed in Europe, including take down within a specified period, proactive measures and fines for failure to do so. Consumers have the right to be protected whether using services funded by money or data.

Now is the time for this conversation to be had, and we call on all of you to join us at the table and be part of the solution. 

Facebook statement

Facebook released the statement below overnight Tuesday.

By Chris Sonderby, VP and Deputy General Counsel

Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by the horrific terrorist attacks in Christchurch. We remain shocked and saddened by this tragedy and are committed to working with leaders in New Zealand, other governments, and across the technology industry to help counter hate speech and the threat of terrorism. We continue to work around the clock to prevent this content from appearing on our site, using a combination of technology and people.

We have been working directly with the New Zealand Police to respond to the attack and support their investigation. We removed the attacker’s video within minutes of their outreach to us, and in the aftermath, we have been providing an on-the-ground resource for law enforcement authorities. We will continue to support them in every way we can. In light of the active investigation, police have asked us not to share certain details. While we’re still reviewing this situation, we are able to provide the information below:

  • The video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast. No users reported the video during the live broadcast. Including the views during the live broadcast, the video was viewed about 4000 times in total before being removed from Facebook.
  • The first user report on the original video came in 29 minutes after the video started, and 12 minutes after the live broadcast ended.
  • Before we were alerted to the video, a user on 8chan posted a link to a copy of the video on a file-sharing site.
  • We designated both shootings as terror attacks, meaning that any praise, support and representation of the events violates our Community Standards and is not permitted on Facebook.
  • We removed the personal accounts of the named suspect from Facebook and Instagram, and are actively identifying and removing any imposter accounts that surface.
  • We removed the original Facebook Live video and hashed it so that other shares that are visually similar to that video are then detected and automatically removed from Facebook and Instagram.
  • Some variants such as screen recordings were more difficult to detect, so we expanded to additional detection systems including the use of audio technology.
  • In the first 24 hours, we removed about 1.5 million videos of the attack globally. More than 1.2 million of those videos were blocked at upload, and were therefore prevented from being seen on our services.
  • Member organizations of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) coordinate regularly on terrorism and have been in close contact since the attack. We have shared more than 800 visually-distinct videos related to the attack via our collective database, along with URLs and context on our enforcement approaches. This incident highlights the importance of industry cooperation regarding the range of terrorists and violent extremists operating online.
  • We identified abusive content on other social media sites in order to assess whether or how that content might migrate to one of our platforms.

We will continue to work around the clock on this and will provide further updates as relevant

Here is a video of Ardern's speech, delivered in the House on Tuesday:

And here is a video of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges', speech: 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

39 Comments

14
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Big hat, no cattle again, how has it worked for suicide?, lockdown on all info, no reporting of it at all after sensitive folk felt ruffled and politicians scrambled to sit them down with a nice hot cuppa to make it all go away. Last I heard numbers had increased. It sort of puts the lie to all the support lines as well. This in the same vein, like hate is going to be extinguished if it is not mentioned around people who go queasy if forced to think for themselves. Think of all the icky things we could do away with just by not talking about them, climate change, obesity, measles, spiders, the list goes on. But then they are politicians, their job is not to achieve anything, just to put in place a smooth path for their paymasters to profit from the plebs.

Yes it is a line of argument, and it is good and it justified. But it is in reality, and sadly, a very thin line that quickly gets washed down in the massive mass audience of world wide electronic communications. Not just the wild and uncontrolled messaging and viewing, but the money at stake.And I hate to say this, but I wager that the great majority of the American public for instance, and that of many other countries, would be more likely to read, have priority for in other words, what utterances are coming out of one of the Kardashians, than our Prime Minister, regardless of the profound issue at stake here.

19
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"as it becomes increasingly clear the Christchurch terror attacks were conceived of the internet, for the internet."
That's not my take? Increasingly clear to whom? He clearly states he wants to expedite a race/culture war and had chosen carefully many facets of his attack so that the media would pick up on them and duly report them incorrectly (which has been done) causing more friction where there already are issues.
As for censorship, I've always been a fan of "sunlight is the best disinfectant." It would be more benificial to keep terrible opinions open for criticism and challenges as that is more likely to change said views than pushing them into echo chambers which we are currently experiencing in a big way with social media.

Exactly the modus operandi of these kinds of guys
https://thespinoff.co.nz/media/19-03-2019/the-online-cesspits-where-hate...

for 50 years the USSR censored anything remotely against the govt yet when the heavy handed censor (he sent you to a gulag) was removed the Russians were found to be religious, disrepectful of their govt, colour prejudiced, etc.
Our govt can and should attempt to suppress objectionable material but don't expect it to work. Well unless it is like the software being developed in China with universal face and gait recognition, searching for key words in emails and on social media (eg Winnie the Pooh or Falun Gong), AI combined with database mining. This will result in you being sent to the gulag because your neighbour used key words in his emails and then went to the shops at the same time you did.

Sounds like you know much about ussr, which exactly 50 y period are you referring to?

I'll admit general ignorance. The 50 years of the Iron curtain (OK wasn't it nearer 40 years); but lift censorship and Yugoslavia fell apart, Czechoslovakia split, Poland returned to church, African students at University in Moscow were harrassed. My point being a strong govt's heavy handed enforcing of racial and ethnic harmony and suppression of religion did not work. Given modern communications can our govt do what Stalin couldn't?

Funnily enough, you did not mention any country which were part of ussr , they just kept military bases there , not sure anyone inforced any cultural policies there , the governments were still local which were just “friends” with ussr at that time . In the former ussr states though, cultural equality policies were exactly good thing and worked quite well , very comparable with current NZ ‘ ones , We can call it “enforcement“ but any multinational country can’t exist without this kind of policies,

""Dubcek's effort to establish “communism with a human face” was celebrated across the country, and the brief period of freedom became known as the Prague Spring. But on August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union answered Dubcek's reforms with invasion of Czechoslovakia by 600,000 Warsaw Pact troops."" with friends like that ....

and it sounds like you lost in dates slightly , that tyran died well before all of those events happened. My point is policies promoting cultural diversity well-being are needed, so I'm with PM on this , the main thing is that they need to find that balance (e.g. policies vs. censorship)

If by promoting cultural diversity you mean taxpayers paying for Pasifika Festival then great (my family have been involved as dancers). But if you mean separate cultures as recommended by an Auckland academic who boasted that a Chinese inhabitant of Northcote can work, shop, visit lawyers and dentists, take their kids to attend rhymetime and never need to use English then I find that kind of multi-culturalism means identity politics and under stress such as a big recession may lead to potential ethnic based conflicts. I have family living in Bradford - not an ideal community.

Northcote is not Bradford and although there are many Chinese it is more diverse than our academic realises. But the speed with which places can change is astonishing - I lived in Spitalfields when it was over 90% Bengali (actually 96% at local schools) whereas 20 years earlier you would have had trouble finding a Bengali.

Don’t see how turning this loser coward into a voldermort’ type character achieves anything. ‘The person that will remain nameless’ Name and shame. He’s just a human piece of crapolla.

I totally disagree with you and support Jacinda's stance 100%. In his sick mind he thinks he's a hero and wants a forum. Don't give him one. The focus should be on the victims, as Jacinda said. Not on the psychopath.

I think you are right Gareth, and I also support Jacinda's position. However there is also an element of truth to the other comments. The platforms do publish, and the debate is important. the problem is on these platforms it becomes unregulated and with the more extreme debates, that very quickly becomes a problem.

Even Interest moderates the commentary, and if that is required on a site that is largely about economics, what is required for a site that is open slather? I really think the debate is important, but we should not suppress it, because that will drive it underground, and possibly even make those who hold the more extreme views, more likely to act on them to make their point. At least through talk we can try to appeal to whatever sense they may have. Besides we need to provide a platform for the authorities to use to identify them early enough to prevent them from doing soemthing this stupid.

Totally Accept your disagreement of this opinion and understand where you are coming from. However if you want to erase this persons identity and make him anonymous (give him no name, no face are you not playing into his hand like the anonymous trolls that may support his beliefs). History is full of terrible people. I myself would prefer a un moderated internet where people posted comments under there own name and identity so hate speech could be tracked and traced named and shamed. Like it or not this terrible attack on NZ people was done by....no name.

Does it have to be unmoderated for people to put it under their own name? I believe most of these people are at heart cowards. That is the problem with the internet. These people will say and promote things they will never do out loud in any forum where they are known, usually because they know the response they will get. Requiring them to verify their identity could be a legal requirement for any platform. At that process could be required to follow a specified process. I agree that the debate should be in the open. I do not believe in anonimity in any debate. I stand behind my convictions, and that is of learning. Expressing an opinion for me is only a way to get others to counter it with their arguement as a means for me to learn. This site for me, has been nothing short of brilliant for that. I think most or the correspondents who contribute here feel the same. I only wish others would be the same.

Murray & Teddy, to some extent I think we may be talking past each other here. I am not talking about the broader issue of online forms and debate. For me that's one for another day. I am simply talking about how we treat the perpetrator of this horrendous crime from this point on. And on this I agree with our PM. Give him no oxygen for his hatred.

An interesting article here from Brendon Cox, husband of the murdered British MP Jo Cox - https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/we-must-deny-terrorists-the-media-stardom-they-so-crave-a4095566.html

Thank you for sharing this article Gareth, ‘the focus should be 100% on the victims and survivors’. Apologies for my uninformed comments.

On that I agree totally - he is not a hero, he wasn't brave - they did not and could not fight back. He was a coward because he picked on people, giving them little to no opportunity to fight back. He was not a soldier, soldiers protect the community, they do not attack it. He was not protecting anything, he was attacking the very fabric of who we as a nation, as a people and as a species stand and hope for.

Dubbing someone unnameable gives them huge mystique. It is like a knighthood for villainy and doubtlessly a mark of great honor in the shooters own mind and others that may seek to emulate him. A colossal error. Even if you dont want to use his name, which i dont for example, you most certainly shouldn't dub them nameless.

I agree that we need to maintain uncensored discussion and freedom of speech on the internet, and that - just as it is in New Zealand off the internet - different to allowing (for example) exhortations to violence with no consequences for the speaker.

It's slightly different on private platforms in that each gets to make its own rules, and that's its right. The problem that many have with the likes of Facebook is not that it does not censor but rather that its content model actively promotes echo chambers to reinforce existing beliefs. Rather than being a marketplace of ideas and robust discussion, its algorithms take existing beliefs and reinforce them over and over - for profit.

Thus the leaders noting that "Hey, you are doing that for profit, but you can't disavow yourself of all responsibility for the effects your practices may have."

The USA went after a content hosting platform for giving people the ability to upload copies of commercial content. It'll be interesting to see how much countries ask platforms to take responsibility for what else they do for profit.

Jacinda is right. Like her I will not use his name but anyone can find it - as I searched for it online last week I told my wife 'I hope he hasn't got the same name as me' and I was delighted to discover nothing in common.

That is the fine- sounding moral standpoint - trouble is that to have a chance of preventing the next attack we do need to focus on the psychopath , his motives , drivers etc etc.

We need to understand these gangs they belong to and why they feel this way. But i don't expect any rational discussion on this, we are too busy focusing on gun laws and facebook posts. No one has the guts to discus what lies beyind this growing phenomena (including those funding it) because they will get slammed.

So inevitably the problem will grow.

Ah politicians. One live-streamed terrorist attack, following hundreds not live-streamed, and it's clear that terrorist attacks and live-streaming are intrinsically linked.

So first the big scandal is how much data is being collected by Facebook, etc. about you and how compromised your privacy is, and overnight the calls - from some of the very same people - are that people must be so closely, precisely monitored that Facebook, etc. can and should intervene in real time? Really?

Really?

Its quite a double sided sword. Just as the printing press was when it was invented and look at the positive and negative impact of the peice of technology over the centuries. What I am most concerned about is the utter lack of will to impose regulation on the tech industrialists. Its as if in this age of neo liberalism the big corporates like fb have declared themselves sovereign states and above the established law of the democracies, at least.

One of the biggest lessons i have learned in life is that you can't unlook.

Energy would be far better expending teaching people to be discerning about their content, rather than to hide it.

You can't unexperience something. It applies to sensory experiences, and to what is fed to us through various media. Applies to violence, to porn, or to even the written word. I have worked where I was forced into unpleasant experiences, they never leave you. There are even smells that you won't forget, a decaying human body is very unique and unpleasant.

I chose not to look when jihadists broadcast a beheading ten years or more back, just as I choose not to look at this current episode.

I also think part of the problem was that the video was turned into forbidden fruit, and its a natural human inclination to desire that which we are told we cannot have. If it had been freely available, I think most people would have just chosen to not watch it. Like the terrorist beheading video that was circulating a while back, or the video of the Scandinavian girls who were killed in Morocco. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the first video of a terrorist killing that has been put on the Internet. Availability of something demystifies it, makes it less attractive, and gives space for people to make up their own minds about whether they want to see it or not. But as soon as you make it unobtainable, people want to obtain it.

This whole question also goes to the method by which the 'alleged' mass murderer will be tried. I'd be for digging up a terror/military piece of legislation, and using it to consign him to the tender mercies of a closed-to-public-and-media tribunal with everything sealed for 30+ years afterwards. That way, there's no possibility of using the justice system as a platform for further dissemination of whatever motivated him, methods, accomplices, etc. I do see it as an act of war.....so hope the best legal minds in the Gubmint are on it.

I find it curious that all the attention has been focused on Facebook and Google. Last I heard, no-one under the age of 30 even used those platforms anymore. The video is freely available on the new social media networks and hosting platforms, mainly because they have been developed in response to Facebook and Google censorship. For instance, anything loaded onto the blockchain video site cannot be deleted. The number of new users these sites have obtained over the last week will probably ensure that they are the go-to guys for whoever tries this next. Its the law of unintended consequences - by keeping it off Facebook and YouTube they have simply laid the foundation for the adoption of platforms that come with no controls whatsoever.

The very fact that things can't be deleted from the blockchain video site means that those places will simply end up banished to the darkweb. One kiddy porn upload or something similar, and most countries have censorship laws that will kick in. If the video can't be removed, then the site will have to be blackholed. And don't tell me that everyone is going to download a complete blockchain of videos.. Real word bandwidth limits will cause ISPs to block that if it spreads enough.

You are also wrong about people under 30 not using Facebook, several of my nieces and newphews are on Facebook.

Attempts to block them will be about as successful as attempts to block the Pirate Bay. And they would have to ban VPNs as well.

It keeps it out of the hands of those that don't/can't be bothered go digging for it. Just like kiddy porn, if you really want to find it you probably can.. but you wont find it by typing a few words into google and hitting Enter.

I was a media professional for more than 30 years at a reasonably high level. Let us be clear on one thing: most major news outlets exist to either to get eyeballs it can sell to advertisers, or get as many people as possible to subscribe, with a strong emphasis on the former. Public interest takes a back seat, often no seat at all, as they are essentially a business aimed at making a profit. They can and will exploit this terrible event to this end, because that's what they do. So can we expect fair, reasoned coverage of the Christchurch atrocity? Probably not by any reasoned definition. Try and propose permanent name suppression, or a trial behind closed doors and wait for the media outcry of 'not in the public interest' aka known as 'we'll lose eyeballs'. The 'greatest good of the greatest number' aim should be to deny this worthless wretch a platform to espouse his filth, and keep him locked up and out of harm's way. Focus on the victims, use the word 'hero' properly, and let reason prevail at all times. Not speaking his name and not speculating on his motives would be a good start. And perhaps the wider issue is the role of social media which refuses to take any responsibility for the enormous damage it is doing. Legislation needs to be enacted that makes them responsible for the content they allow to be published. The medium is the message, as McLuhan said.

The media are simply responding to demand though. They're doing it for money, sure, but we are giving them money to do it. A "good news only" media outlet would be considered pretty cheesy.

Politicians have become the modern day clergy preaching to the populus what they should be thinking.

The whole Brexit argument was started the Politicians not listening to the population about mass imigration into the country.

Things get so heavily edited by the press as well that people don't trust what they are reading anymore.

Should we be halting all trade with China since they are holding over 1m Muslims in camps?

Morally we certainly should be....

The Internet is great but social media is making an irreversible change to society and it's not for the good.