Microsoft president Brad Smith has called on the tech industry to pave the way for an online world that mirrors the offline, starting with guiding what should and shouldn't be shared on technology platforms.
Speaking at Microsoft Future Now in Sydney on Thursday, Smith discussed his visit to New Zealand last week, following the terrorist attack in Christchurch that was witnessed by many on social media.
"What is really important, certainly for us at Microsoft, is to recognise that this is a learning moment for all of us," he said. "It really speaks to so many human values, human needs, but it also speaks very directly to technology."
According to Smith, there's almost always an underlying technology dimension to issues that make it to the daily news headlines, with Christchurch being just the latest, and one of the more tragic, examples of that.
"But what it has done is compel us to think more about these issues, to say more about these issues, and frankly at times to have the courage to speak out about these issues. But more than any of that, to actually do something," he said.
"I think we have to start by looking at the unfortunate and tragic role that technology played in this horrendous terrorist attack in Christchurch and we need to recognise that the tech sector needs to do more."
Smith did not call out Facebook for how long it took for the social media giant to block the live-stream of the attack from its platform, but he did say now is the right time for technology companies to look at how their services operated.
"There was much less sharing of this video on our services, but there was some, and there were many aspects where our technology and our human controls worked very well, but we immediately sat down and said 'Where can we work better'," he explained.
"This is a moment in time that really calls on all of us who are connected with technology, who think about technology, those of us in the partner community, those of us who create technology to fundamentally ask how do we become part of the solution, even if we were not part of the problem in the first place."
Smith said the industry, not just Microsoft, has a lot of important things to do, starting with addressing existing business models.
"We need to more to prevent these kinds of horrific uses of technology. We need to continue to invest in and improve the technology. And we will, but it requires more human controls as well," Smith continued.
"We also need to do more to increase our capability to respond to crisis -- we can't assume that there will never be a crisis of this sort or another, so we're focused on concrete ideas to advance that."
According to Smith, recent events have been an "unfortunate, sad, and tragic reflection" of the fact that in too many ways, digital discourse has simply become too toxic.
"Of course there's a huge difference between hateful speech on the internet and this kind of horrendous action in person, but this kind of hateful speech does not help and we all have an opportunity to ask how we can pursue new initiatives together to bring to the online the kinds of standards of behaviour the standards of civilisation that we demand of ourselves, of our children, of our colleagues when we're interacting with each other in person."
He asked tech companies to reflect on the way they currently operate and how they intend to operate in the future.
"Every company gets to decide what it wants to be," he said.
"This is a time where technology is being infused into every aspect of society, every part of our lives.
"Words are easy, action is harder."
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