The "Christchurch Call" summit in Paris is likely to fall short in two critical areas, according to the author of a new report funded by the Law Foundation (embedded below).
The social media pow-wow was called by Jacinda Ardern after the March 15 Christchurch shootings. The New Zealand Prime Minister will co-chair it with French President Emmanuel Macron.
It will take place in Paris on May 15, piggybacking on an already planned meeting of digital ministers from the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US).
The exact agenda is being tightly guarded.
But researcher Marianne Elliott, who co-authored the Law Foundation's study "Digital Threats to Democracy", released this morning, told the Herald she expects it to focus narrowly on initiatives to locate and remove violent terror content in a bid to keep things succinct and achievable.
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If it does restrict itself to a narrow communique along those lines, it will have fallen short of dealing with the scale of the challenge and effecting real change, Elliott says, though she hopes it will prove to be the start of a wider process.
Elliott specifically addresses the Christchurch tragedy in her study, which was still underway when the mosque attacks took place.
She says more sweeping, globally co-ordinated moves are needed to bolster public media, and address the fake news environment that fosters extremism.
There are two key things she would like done.
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One is a globally co-ordinated push to use anti-trust laws to break the power of the handful of social media companies who currently monopolise the attention of billions of people, marginalising other channels in what she calls "the attention economy". "That will be hard because it requires the co-operation of the US," she admits.
The second is to make Facebook and others' algorithms transparent. Algorithms are the software smarts that decide what you see on a social network, and in what order. They keep spreading whatever gets the most attention, Elliott says - and what gets our attention is often content that plays to our baser instincts.
Elliott appreciates the tech giants want to keep their algorithms secret from each other, but says regulators should be able to see them and the content rules they are enforcing. AI or automated software - created and overseen by humans - will never be neutral or free of bias, she says, so people need to be involved in the classification process, too.
The researcher also wants a shift in emphasis from consumer action to citizen action.
What does that mean?
She acknowledges some people deleted their Facebook or Twitter account in protest at the actions - or inaction - of the social media giants.
"I have no argument if people want to do that, but it won't create change fast enough," she says.
"We need collective action rather than people switching off Twitter; citizen groups lobbying governments."
Bending the ear of local MP, who could in turn help encourage the Government to lean harder on the tech giants, could likely be the quickest route to reform.
Elliott is also unimpressed that Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms are struggling to remove all copies of the alleged gunman's video. She says technical experts she spoke to while compiling her report said it could be done. Facebook and others should halt video uploads until they can sort their filters.
Reps from the major social media companies are expected to be at the Paris summit.
Elliot hopes it's the start of a broader conversation and one that must include a broader range of people, from IT experts, to privacy and human rights advocates who can help strike a free speech balance while protecting victims.
As much as she wants to see governments around the world co-operate in front-foot anti-trust and algorithm transparency action, she also wants to see safeguards maintained.
Council for Civil Liberties head Thomas Beagle - who has criticised Australia's recent social media clampdown law as ineffectual and over-the-top - features in her report.
"There will be trade-offs, but it's really important we don't trade off benefits for freedom of expression," she says.
She cites research that has found "minority and marginalised groups are more likely to use social media to engage in political activities than people from more mainstream groups." Facebook empowers the powerless as much as it amplifies the alt-right blowhards.
There has been some change since March 15. Google-owned YouTube, for example, no longer lets its mobile users livestream unless they have at least 1000 subscribers, and Facebook recently banned several fringe figures.
And Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has said he is open to globally-coordinated rules for social media companies. But in the meantime, his company has quietly watered-down protections for its NZ users. And, separately, Zuckerberg has proposed encrypting content to protect privacy - something our Privacy Commissioner says could backfire by making it easier for content like revenge porn and extremist to be shared.
The Paris summit could be the start of a process that sees more heavyweight reforms being imposed from outside, but Elliott is keeping her expectations low for May 15.
The Law Foundation is a non-profit that carries out public policy and legal research. Its patron is Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann
The six recommendations from Elliott's report
• Restore a genuinely multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance, including meaningful mechanisms for collective engagement by citizens/users.
• Refresh anti-trust and competition regulation, taxation regimes and related enforcement mechanisms to align them across like-minded liberal democracies and restore competitive fairness.
• Recommit to publicly funded democratic infrastructure including public interest media and the online platforms that afford citizen participation and deliberation.
• Regulate for greater transparency and accountability from the platforms including
algorithmic transparency and accountability for verifying the sources of political advertising.
• Revisit regulation of privacy and data protection to better protect indigenous rights to data sovereignty and redress the failures of a consent-based approach to data management.
• Recalibrate policies and protections to address not only individual rights and privacy but also collective impact and wellbeing.