'Global alliance': Jacinda Ardern joins world leaders calling for tech giant accountability

Jacinda Ardern has joined other world leaders calling for technology giants such as Facebook and Google to take accountability for the content they facilitate. 

The Prime Minister was asked on Tuesday if the Government would consider introducing disincentives for Facebook after it failed to fully remove footage of the alleged Christchurch terrorist's livestream. 

"At this stage, some of the conversations we've had in Cabinet have been reasonably general and there's acknowledgement that work needs to be done and a commitment to continue looking at the legislative framework that we have in New Zealand," she said. 

Questions have been raised over the accountability of the alleged Christchurch terrorist, a 28-year-old Australian national, posting a livestream of the event to Facebook. Ardern said despite it being removed over 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours, the video was still widely shared.  

"We have been in contact with Facebook. They have given us updates on their efforts to have it removed, but, as I say, it should not be distributed, available, able to be viewed. It is horrendous," Ardern said. 

She acknowledged that Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, had been in touch. But in her speech to Parliament later that day, Ardern showed that New Zealand is prepared to stand up to Facebook and demand change.  

"We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman," she said. 

Jacinda Ardern addressing Parliament after the Christchurch terror attack.
Jacinda Ardern addressing Parliament after the Christchurch terror attack. Photo credit: Getty

"There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility... I don't have all of the answers now, but we must collectively find them."

The alleged gunman used Facebook to livestream his shooting, which was then shared via Google-owned YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a social media crackdown in the wake of the attacks. He wrote to G20 chairman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking for social media reform to be the top priority at the next annual meeting. 

Telecom providers in New Zealand have joined the rally. An open letter to Google, Facebook and Twitter by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees on Tuesday called on the social media giants to "urgently discuss" a solution to videos such as the livestream being shared. 

And in a letter released on Tuesday (US local time), the chair of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, Representative Bennie Thompson, wrote to Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft urging them to do a better job or removing violent political content. 

"Your companies must prioritise responding to these toxic and violent ideologies with resources and attention," Thomson wrote.

In a statement to Newshub this week, Google said it had removed "tens of thousands of videos [and] terminated hundreds of accounts created to promote or glorify the shooter", adding that the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube in the 24 hours after the attack was "unprecedented". 

"Our teams are continuing to work around the clock to prevent violent and graphic content from spreading, we know there is much more work to do."

Should we follow the Brits? 

New Zealand has stood up to Google in the past. Last year the search giant said it would review its systems after it named the alleged killer of British backpacker Grace Millane in an email about trending issues in New Zealand.  

Ardern pointed to the UK as a country that's often stood up to large technology companies that haven't done enough to protect people's wellbeing and stop the spread of illicit content such as extremist propaganda. 

"I discussed that with [British Prime Minister] Theresa May when we spoke [on Monday]," Ardern said. "We agreed that globally, efforts need to be made. We really need a global alliance to deal with some of these issues." 

Jacinda Ardern and Theresa May met in January.
Jacinda Ardern and Theresa May met in January. Photo credit: Reuters

In the wake of the London Bridge terror attack in June 2017, May called for new laws to regulate the internet, and demanded that internet companies like Facebook and Google do more to prevent terrorists from communicating freely. 

"We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed," she said at the time. "Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide."

Facebook has already come under intense scrutiny in the UK following a series of data scandals, including that of UK-based consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which was sold the personal data of around 50 million Facebook users through an app. 

More recently, UK lawmakers accused Facebook of violating data privacy and competition laws in a report on social media disinformation. Documents showed Facebook was "willing to override its users' privacy settings in order to transfer data" to app developers. 

A collective internet crackdown has been floated in the past. Ardern joined leaders of Australia, Canada, the US and UK - members of the Five Eyes group of nations - for a conference in September last year to discuss "grave threats" online. 

One of the solutions put forward at the conference was to break end-to-end internet encryption - the technology that translates data into unreadable code which is only decipherable by the user and those the user intends to share it with... perfect for terror groups. 

From left to right: Former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, British PM Theresa May, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern.
From left to right: Former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, British PM Theresa May, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

The Prime Minister has yet to disclose what specific action the Government will take against tech giants, if any, in the wake of the suspected white supremacist's social media livestream. 

Ardern told Parliament on Tuesday her Government will "look at the role social media played" and will examine "what steps we can take", including on the international stage, and in unison with New Zealand's partners. 

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