On Monday, EFF participated in the Christchurch Call Leaders’ Dialogue at the UN General Assembly in New York in our capacity as a member of the Christchurch Call Advisory Network. The meeting, chaired by the leaders of New Zealand, France, and Jordan, featured speeches from a diverse array of government and tech company leaders, and updates to the Christchurch Call process, including the announcement of the advisory network and reforms to the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).
As we noted back in May, we have serious concerns about some elements of the Call, including the lack of clarity around the definition of “terrorism” and the language of “eliminating” terrorist and violent extremist content online. This summer, we co-authored a whitepaper that speaks to the latter concern; in particular, the fact that elimination—particularly without preservation—of some content has led to the erasure of key documentation used by human rights defenders in places like Syria and Ukraine. We have also been frustrated with the sidelining of civil society throughout much of this process, though we appreciate the New Zealand government’s efforts toward inclusion.
Another area of concern for us is the GIFCT, an industry-led effort launched by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube in response to pressure to curb online extremism and “terrorist content.” On Monday, it was announced that the GIFCT would be spinning off to become an “independent organization supported by dedicated technology, counterterrorism and operations teams.” We spoke to company representatives who ensured us that the new GIFCT would be far more inclusive of civil society, but it remains unclear to us just how independent it will be. It will still remain governed by an industry-led board, and the inclusion of civil society appears limited to a multistakeholder forum and an advisory committee. The new GIFCT will still be largely funded by social media companies.
Furthermore, the hash database shared by GIFCT members for the purpose of being able to remove certain content identified as “terrorism” by multiple companies as once remains opaque, despite demands from civil society for more transparency [PDF]. We don’t know what companies are feeding into the database, how many false positives there are, or how many users appeal such decisions.
Lastly, we were troubled to see that some of the governments that have joined the Christchurch Call include those whose leaders are responsible for discriminatory and hateful speech, including the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who spoke on Monday at the Leaders’ Dialogue. Modi’s party, the BJP, is a Hindu nationalist party, and attacks on Muslims in the country have increased considerably under its rule, owing in large part to the prime minister’s rhetoric. We know that regulations intended to curb extremist content are very rarely applied to the political class, which has the most power to incite physical violence.
Nevertheless, we were heartened by the efforts of the New Zealand government, by the speeches at the UNGA by our civil society allies, and by the speech of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which included repeated calls for further civil society inclusion in the Christchurch Call process. We will continue to engage with both governments and companies in the process as it moves forward.