Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube overhaul counter-terrorism efforts for Christchurch Call

A new crisis response protocol has also been launched for the 48 countries, three international organisations, and eight tech firms that are members of the Call.

An online counter-terrorism forum created by global tech companies -- Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube -- will be restructured to become an independent organisation as part of efforts to combat terrorism on online platforms. 

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), created in 2017, will change its focus towards increasing cooperation between companies, government agencies, and experts.

It will hire an executive director and new staff, and set up an independent committee that will oversee the organisation's governance. The independent committee will be comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, and the European Commission, among other members.

The decision to make GIFCT an independent body arose during a meeting on Monday at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the next steps for the Christchurch Call.

"The new standalone Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism will have a dedicated structure and staff to more capably carry out the business of disrupting terrorist and violent extremist use of member platforms and to engage with smaller platforms to assist them do the same," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

The Christchurch Call is an action plan [PDF] that commits its signatories to a range of measures that seek to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content, and counter the roots of violent extremism. It was formed following the terrorist attack in Christchurch earlier this year, which was streamed across online platforms.

Other outcomes from the UN General Assembly meeting include the launch of a new crisis response protocol. The protocol will be used by governments and tech companies in the wake of terrorist and violent extremist attacks to coordinate and manage any online impacts of an attack. 

"I don't want any other country to be placed in the situation New Zealand was in the minutes, hours, and days after the attack in Christchurch, when we were left scrambling to respond to and remove live-streamed hate," Ardern said.

See also: Morrison sells Australia's terrorism video streaming plan to the G20  

"I am pleased to say today that this crisis response protocol is ready to deploy."
 
In addition, a Christchurch Call Advisory Network was established to advise on the implementation of the Call. The network will comprise of civil society organisations that will aim to "integrate a broad range of perspectives and live up to the commitments in the Call around supporting human rights and online freedoms, as well as the rights of victims of terror".
 
The Christchurch Call also welcomed 31 new countries and two organisations on Monday, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and the Council of Europe and UNESCO. This brings the total to 48 countries and three international organisations. 

"The global community has responded to the March 15 terrorist act that attempted to divide us with an unprecedented and powerful act of unity," Ardern said.

"Today's comprehensive set of actions are designed to ensure we have the organisation in place to stop the internet being used as a tool for terror."

Governments around the world have been considering how to tighten their rules around what content is permitted on online platforms. The Australian government officially gave its eSafety Commissioner the power to force the nation's telcos to block certain content during crisis events. 

Prior to that, Australia convinced the G20 nations to come together in July to urge online platforms to meet citizens' expectations to prevent terrorist and violent extremism conducive to terrorism content from being streamed, uploaded, or re-uploaded. 

Attending the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the terrible events of Christchurch has united government, industry, and civil society to work towards preventing the spread of extremist content online.

"It's exposed significant shortcomings though, the events in Christchurch, in industry and government responses which we now are all addressing. The industry is taking steps to prevent this foreign content [from] being streamed and uploaded, re-uploaded on digital platforms. And it must. This hadn't been the priority before. But I'm glad it is quickly becoming one now," Morrison said.

"Through the shared terrorist violent extremist Christchurch protocol, government and industry will now work in lockstep to respond to a live-streamed attack. That's good. And we endorsed these guidelines and strategy."  

Australia, New Zealand, and the OECD will also develop voluntary transparency reporting protocols on the major platforms. This will set the first global reporting standards for industry to meet, Morrison said. 

"We'll start by delivering a benchmark to practice. Defining metrics and creating a common network so that we can measure progress and take action together. These are the practical steps that are necessary and I think there is a widespread agreement about the need to take action. 

"But we've got to keep checking up on ourselves to make sure it actually happens. Or we'll let down everybody outside this room who depends on it."

Updated at 2.50pm AEST, at 24 September 2019: added comments from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

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