Until this week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was fairly low-key in calling for action on the social media front following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Beyond a call for those who led the social media platform to take more responsibility for what was on them, she took a more considered approach than some other countries' leaders after the terrorist livestreamed his slaughter on Facebook.

Some – such as Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison - passed hurried laws imposing tough penalties on social media executives who allowed such material on their platforms.


Ardern moved quickly on gun law reforms, but when it came to social media she clearly recognised the futility in domestic measures given the global nature of social media.

She unveiled what she was doing this week.

Next month, Ardern will travel to Paris to meet other countries' leaders and the heads of the technology companies to try to broker an agreement on social media.

Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron will chair that. Both have worked together in the past, on climate change.

The press release announcing this initiative sounded at first as if it could easily turn into a meaningless feel-good exercise.

It proposed getting other leaders and tech companies to sign a pledge called the "Christchurch Call".

It would urge social media platforms to take action so that violent, extremist content could not be published or shared.

Ardern is clearly well down the road in trying to secure the support of other leaders and tech companies.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a phone call from her, and Ardern personally spoke to the heads of several tech companies including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

As with climate change, making the right noises and getting the desired results are two very different things.

It will be something akin to Hercules wrestling the Hydra. As soon as one head is chopped off, another two will appear.

The reason it might work is because Ardern and Macron have recognised that over-reaching will bog the debate down in freedom of expression arguments. The other concern is politicians using it as a means to silence their critics.

So what they propose is a clampdown on a fairly tightly prescribed type of content: content that incites or exhibits terrorism and violent extremism.

Ardern reasoned nobody could argue the gunman had a "right" to release the video of his slaughter.

There is certainly an impetus after Christchurch and Sri Lanka – and moving quickly to harness that is imperative.

However, this is not as easy for politicians to address as it may seem because excessive restrictions will also cut off one of the politicians' most powerful tools for direct communication.

Many politicians use social media to bypass the filter of the traditional media and speak directly to supporters and voters.

This has some pluses for those politicians – but not necessarily for democracy.

Over-reliance on social media over journalistic media allows them to escape questioning on issues they may not want to face. Macron has also come in for criticism for trying to stifle the 'Yellow Vest' protest use of social media.

Ardern herself has been known to vote with her fingers when it comes to expressing her disapproval with certain social media platforms.

Ardern was a regular on Twitter until she became Prime Minister. In the year and eight months since the 2017 election she has tweeted just 29 times. Several related to Secret Santa.

The most obvious explanation for her aversion to Twitter is US President Donald Trump, who is renowned for his Twitter use.

Ardern now prefers Instagram for her less formal material.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Facebook live while on maternity leave. Photo / Facebook
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Facebook live while on maternity leave. Photo / Facebook

She was also a prolific user of Facebook Live, frequently posted informal "selfie" style livestreams about events and hosting live chats.

They provided intimacy, a way to interact with the PM in an informal manner and a way for Ardern to control what aspects of her life "behind the scenes" life were shared.

They ranged from a livestream from her hospital room after the birth of Neve to "preview" videos on her international travels. The most recent such livestream was a live chat about climate change on March 13.

Those informal livestreams ended on March 15 – the day of the mosque attacks.

Since then, her Facebook account has been restricted to livestreaming formal press conferences and announcement rather than the cosy personal content.

But in the last election, Labour spent $475,000 on advertising on Facebook – four times as much as National – as it tried to appeal to younger voters.

So, yes, maybe there will be changes to social media – but major changes such as halting tools like Facebook Live? Don't hold your breath.

Jacinda Ardern comments on Facebook officials telling Congress that it's algorithms didn't detect the Christchurch gunman's video because it wasn't gruesome enough. / Mark Mitchell