US abstains from ‘Christchurch Call’, the global pledge to curb online violence

The White House is not endorsing a global pledge to step up efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organise extremist groups and broadcast attacks, citing respect for “freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

The statement came on Wednesday after World leaders led by French President Emmanuel Macron and executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech companies gathered in Paris to compile a set of guidelines dubbed the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city where 51 people were killed in a March attack on mosques. Much of the attack was broadcast live on Facebook, drawing public outrage and fueling debate on how to better regulate social media. Facebook said before the meeting that it was tightening rules for livestream users.

In a statement, the White House said it will “continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online” while also protecting free speech.

The Christchurch Call “is a global response to a tragedy that occurred on the shores of my country but was ultimately felt around the world,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, who has played a leading role pushing for globally coordinated efforts to eliminate online extremism.

“Fundamentally it ultimately commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes,” she said at a joint news conference with Mr. Macron.

The French and New Zealand governments drafted the agreement a roadmap that aims to prevent similar abuses of the internet while insisting that any actions must preserve “the principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The call was adopted by U.S. tech companies that also included Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube, along with France’s Qwant and DailyMotion, and the Wikimedia Foundation. Countries backing France and New Zealand were Britain, Canada, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, Indonesia and the European Union’s executive body. Several other countries not present at the meeting added their endorsement.

The meeting in Paris comes at a pivotal moment for tech companies, which critics accuse of being too powerful and resistant to regulation. Some have called for giants like Facebook to be broken up. Europe is leading a global push for more regulation of how the companies handle user data and copyrighted material. The tech companies, meanwhile, are offering their own ideas in a bid to shape the policy response.

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