Christchurch Call: Tech leaders to release anti-terror algorithms, terror crisis plan formulated

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube have announced they'll release algorithms they use to remove terrorist and extremist content from their platforms. 

The technology giants are the founding members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). 

They've been building a database of what is labelled hashes - effectively digital fingerprints of known terrorist content. Collectively they've gathered more than 200,000 fingerprints this year - sharing them between each other, enabling each of them to quickly identify and remove potential terrorist content from their sites.

On Tuesday, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the 2019 chair of the group, announced it would release the algorithms behind their hashing technology - making them open source for any technology company to use. 

GIFCT has also developed a Crisis Incident Protocol - a blueprint for social media companies and governments to collaborate in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. 

It will work essentially like a civil defence plan - with a set of expectations around how governments and companies will engage following an attack. It sets out who should be contacting who and how they'll make decisions with the aim of significantly increasing the speed at which they can respond to events like the Christchurch terror attack.

The protocol will be tested in December when Google, which owns YouTube, will run a test exercise in New Zealand. 

The group has also announced that it will be restructured - no longer run by the tech giants. It will become an independent entity led by an executive director and supported by dedicated technology, counterterrorism and operations teams. 

"The horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch and the extraordinary virality of the attacker's video online illustrated the need to do even more," GIFCT said in a statement.

Two women smiling together.
Jacinda Ardern and Sheryl Sandberg. Photo credit: Newshub.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement the move was an "unprecedented and powerful act of unity".

"I'm confident the reformed GIFCT will have greater capacity to tackle the challenge of terrorist and violent extremist content online and provide a space for collaboration to implement the Call and stop terrorist content online," she said.

"New Zealand and France, as co-founders of the Christchurch Call, will also help guide the work of the GIFCT as members of its new Independent Advisory Committee."

French President Emmanuel Macron also commented on the move, saying in a statement it would allow more efficient exchange of information between companies and states.

"The internet was established to enable its users to create, to communicate, and to create value. It should remain as a domain that is open, free and secure," he said.

"States and companies must act together, with a shared sense of responsibility and respect for rights and freedoms, to combat the use of the internet for terrorist and violent extremist ends."

"The dialogue we led with tech companies and civil society was successful thanks to the efforts of everyone involved. I am convinced that the reshaped GIFCT will allow us to more effectively counter in a transparent way, the propagation of terrorist and violent extremist content online."