New Zealand and France invite tech giants to summit against online extremism

Key Points
  • New Zealand and France’s joint initiative will press world leaders and tech firms to unite against online terrorist content.
  • The “Christchurch Call” will be a global movement to prevent extremist content being hosted on social media platforms.
  • Spokespersons for Google and Twitter told CNBC they supported the initiative.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive for a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 16, 2018.
Charles Platiau | AFP | Getty Images

New Zealand and France have unveiled an alliance designed to press governments and tech firms to unite against online extremism.

Taking place in Paris on May 15, a meeting co-chaired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron will ask world leaders and tech CEOs to agree to a pledge dubbed the "Christchurch Call," which aims to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Specific details on what the pledge will involve are yet to be announced, but Ardern is due to meet with community leaders on May 14 to discuss its content. In a press release on Wednesday, the New Zealand leader said the two countries were "calling on the leaders of tech companies to join with us and help achieve our goal of eliminating violent extremism online."

Google has confirmed to CNBC via email that it will take part in the meeting on May 15, with a spokesperson adding that the company had a zero-tolerance stance on terrorist content.

"We are committed to leading the way in developing new technologies and standards for identifying and removing terrorist content," they said. "We are working with government agencies, law enforcement and across industry, including as a founding member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to keep this type of content off our platforms. We will continue to engage on this crucial issue."

A spokesperson for Twitter told CNBC in an emailed statement that the firm was continuously investing in technology to prevent extremist accounts and propaganda being hosted on its platform.

"Our work will never be complete, as the threats we face constantly evolve," they said. "We share a common goal with governments all around the world, including in New Zealand, to find real, lasting solutions to building a safer internet and welcome the opportunity to work together with our peers toward a global solution."

Meanwhile, a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: "We share the commitment of world leaders to keep people safe and look forward to collaborating with government, industry and safety experts on a clear framework of rules to help achieve this. We're evaluating how we can best support this effort and who among top Facebook executives will attend."

The meeting will be held alongside the "Tech for Humanity" assembly of G-7 digital ministers, as well as the "Tech for Good" summit, both hosted by the French government.

New Zealand's initiative comes in wake of the March terrorist attacks in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, where a gunman used Facebook to livestream a shooting in two mosques that killed 50 people.

Tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter came under fire at the time for failing to remove footage of the attack from their platforms.

"We all need to act, and that includes social media providers taking more responsibility for the content that is on their platforms," New Zealand's Ardern said.

"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," she added. "This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies."

Since the Christchurch shooting, controversial laws aimed at tackling extremist social media content have been passed or proposed in Australia, the U.K. and the EU.