Negativity spreads like an infectious disease. And currently, the same thing is corrupting the online world. Violent extremism online is day by day becoming a grave challenge everywhere. It is impacting societies and threatening the security of citizens. As per a UNESCO report released in 2017, violent extremism is heavily spread throughout the internet. Many believe that extremist material posted online leads vulnerable individuals to resort to violence.
Since a number of years, national governments and tech companies across the globe have been making reactive decisions. Most recently, even smart city governments have jumped into action to deal with the crisis. Because even they have an important role to play.
The latest stand has been taken by Christchurch, New Zealand, to counteract extremism and terrorism online. The call came after a terrorist attack on two mosques of Christchurch where 51 people were killed. As per sources, this attack on 15 March 2019 on the Muslim community was designed to go viral. The gunman broadcasted the attacks live on Facebook. Later, Facebook revealed that the video of the attack was viewed 4000 times before it was brought down. However, that didn’t affect it from being spread on social media including Youtube and Twitter.
Christchurch Call To Action
Exactly, after 2 months of the attack, on May 15 2019, ‘Christchurch Call To Action Summit’ was held in Paris. The summit was initiated by the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron. Important attendees included British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among many other representatives from different countries.
The United States, on the other hand, did not join the meeting stressing on two of its beliefs. One was that tech companies should implement their guidelines on violent extremism. And the second was that counteract policy should not suppress the right to freedom of speech. Nevertheless, a White House spokesperson stated that they will provide constant support to “the overall goals reflected in the call.” And added that they will continue to engage governments, industry and public to counter extremist content online.
Coming to the event, France and New Zealand leaders emphasised that the governments alone can not deal with online extremism. Tech companies must also participate and act against the problem. And so, among the attendees were Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Microsoft President Brad Smith, and representatives from Google and Facebook.
Through the initiative, voluntary commitments have been made by governments and online service providers. The common agenda is to address the challenge of violent extremism online and to prevent the abuse of the internet. The President of France and Prime Minister of New Zealand asked technology companies to erase their online platforms of extremist content.
Certain measures were announced at the meeting towards counterterrorism. This included:
- Development of tools to block users from downloading extremist content.
- Increasing transparency around how the content is searched and removed by social media platforms.
- The need for tech companies’ algorithms that do not direct users to violent content.
- Strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of societies to counter the drivers of violent extremism.
Going further, it was concluded that all such actions must be executed in line with the principles of a free, open and secure internet. And it must not compromise human rights and fundamental freedom of expression.
In addition, it must also realise the potential of the internet “as a force for good”. This involves boosting innovation and economic development and nurturing inclusive societies. The participants of the initiative will also encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when showing terrorist events online. In doing this, they must avoid amplifying the violent content without biasing responsible coverage of terrorism and extremism. The declaration also stated that immediate and effective measures will be implemented to decrease the definite risk that the content is broadcasted via live streaming. This includes the identification of content for real-time analysis.
The Commitment Of Tech Giants
Further, the companies also committed to publishing “transparency reports” on the detection and elimination of such content. In a joint statement, the companies said that online extremism and terrorism is a complex societal problem that calls for an all-of-societies response. And for their part, the commitments made by them will further reinforce the partnership that is required by government, society and the technology industry to address the threat.
Smart City London Spearheading To Counter Online Extremism
The Mayor Of London in partnership with Microsoft and the Social Tech Trust is spearheading a smart city programme called ‘Civic Innovation Challenge.’ The aim is to deal with London’s biggest challenges among which lies online terrorism and violent extremism. As part of this programme, tech startups were invited to help make the planning system more accessible to counter extremism. Out of 125 entrants, eight London startups have been shortlisted for funding from Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Civic Innovation Challenge. The eight finalists will now collaborate with City Hall and the Metropolitan Police Service. The aim is to develop their proposals to how they can help tackle these key challenges impacting the UK capital. Two winners from two different categories will be awarded a contract worth £40,000.
Furthermore, an additional 20 companies will work with Transport for London (TfL) and pitch to the Mayor’s Office of Los Angeles. This is one of London’s partners of “Innovator Cities’ undertaking on securing funding and support for developing their ideas. It is possible to come up with best ideas including planning and countering extremism online, only through collaboration between the private and public sector. Theo Blackwell, a chief digital officer for London said in a statement.
The participants have been required to use the guidance on the material of interest to the Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit. This is as reported by Smart Cities World. Additionally, the participants have also been instructed to relate technological innovation to public referrals. This must not involve any kind of surveillance or machine-based detection activity.
What Should You Do? Neighbourhood Watch
Neighbourhood Watch is the largest crime prevention initiative in England and Wales with 2.3 million member households. The platform is working on creating safe, caring and healthy communities with the help of residents. It urges people in the UK to report any kind of crime including online extremism and terrorism.
The content users encounter online may include:
- Articles, speeches, images, or videos promoting terrorism or racial and religious violence
- Terrorist attack videos
- Posts provoking readers to commit acts of online extremism or terrorism
- Messages that intend to agitate hatred against any ethnic or religious group
- Content that instructs how to make a bomb.
- Any material of advice that shows how to obtain or make weapons
Whether it is online extremism or cyber threats, as users we are in majority facing such violent content online. Hence, along with governments and tech giants, we as responsible users need to act against it. A simple solution is to just report it. That’s it!