Social media backlash: How Jacinda Ardern and Emmanuel Macron plan to tackle 'global issue'

Jacinda Ardern has revealed more details about how she and French President Emmanuel Macron plan to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. 

The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday she and the French President will bring together technology companies at a meeting in Paris next month to address the spread of extremism on social media. 

Fresh off that announcement, Ardern told the media in Auckland that she has already spoken with a number of tech giant chief executives - including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg - in an attempt to bring them onside. 

"I don't think anyone would argue that the terrorist had the right to livestream the murder of 50 people," Ardern said, in reference to the March 15 Christchurch terror attacks which inspired the Christchurch Summit in Paris. 

The Christchurch Call 

Taking place on May 15, the meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the Christchurch Call. It will be held alongside the Tech for Humanity meeting of G7 leaders, of which France is the Chair. 

"I don't think anyone would argue - not anyone from tech companies or anyone from government - that that is the way that online platforms should be used," Ardern said, when describing what motivated the pledge.  

"Our plan is to try and build unity around this issue - that we, of course, maintain the principles of a free, open and secure internet. This isn't about freedom of expression - this is about preventing violent extremism and terrorism online." 

Ardern said she will be involved in meetings across two days where she will meet with civil society leaders to discuss the content of the Christchurch Call. She said she'll seek that companies take on responsibilities "as much as governments do". 

Jacinda Ardern met with Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in April 2018.
Jacinda Ardern met with Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in April 2018. Photo credit: Getty

"It's critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism. This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies."

Asked about her conversation with Facebook's chief executive, Ardern said they spoke mostly about the Christchurch attack and that Zuckerberg offered his condolences to those affected. 

She didn't mention whether there was discussion around Facebook failing to remove the alleged shooter's livestream after the attack, and how Zuckerberg said he wouldn't make any changes to its live-streaming platform.

The Prime Minister confirmed that blocking social media companies in New Zealand is "not on the agenda". 

What will be achieved? 

Ardern has already expressed her desire for global action against social media giants like Facebook in the wake of the Christchurch shootings. 

She has not confirmed whether New Zealand will follow Australia in pushing ahead with plans to introduce jail terms and massive fines for social media providers that don't act on removing violent material quickly enough.

That might be because the Prime Minister is adamant that the "global issue" of extremism on social media requires a "global response". Last month she didn't seem convinced that domestic legislation would help, and that she'd rather see a collective effort. 

Ardern said the Paris meeting isn't about setting regulations for tech companies but rather setting expectations for both governments and companies in an effort to stop the spread of extremism online. 

Jacinda Ardern said she has already spoken to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Jacinda Ardern said she has already spoken to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo credit: Getty

"We'll be looking over a period of time to try and bring on board as many countries and companies as we're able. Again, these aren't issues of freedom of speech - we're very specifically focused here on eradicating those extreme acts of terrorism online." 

The Prime Minister said, while she's confident it's an area she and Macron will be able to form consensus, it's "not about apportioning blame on any one element" and that there is "no question" it will be difficult. 

Ardern earlier told Newstalk ZB there has been "recognition from a range of global tech companies that they don't wish to see their platforms used in that way like how streaming was used". 

She said everyone supports a free, open and secure internet, and she wants to maintain that "whilst at the same time curtailing activity which causes harm". 

"For too long, it has also been possible to use these platforms to incite extremist violence, and even to distribute images of that violence, as happened in Christchurch. This is what needs to change."