The United States has snubbed a widespread agreement struck at the Christchurch Call to Action in Paris today to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Seventeen countries, the European Commission, and eight major tech companies have signed up to the accord.

But in a blow to the strength of the mandate, the United States has chosen not to sign despite extensive diplomatic efforts and the fact that a representative was in Paris at a parallel meeting of G7 Digital Ministers.

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The call is still an unprecedented agreement between governments and all the major tech companies for ongoing collaboration to make the internet safer.

However the White House will not sign the agreement amid US concerns that it clashes with constitutional protections for free speech.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted the United States' support for the call's principles.

The US reluctance to sign up was in part mitigated by the commitments of the tech companies that are mainly based there, she said.

Dialogue with the US was ongoing, she added.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Christchurch Call summit at Elysee Palace in Paris. Photo / Pool
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Christchurch Call summit at Elysee Palace in Paris. Photo / Pool

The call is the culmination of weeks of intensive work across many government departments, involving thousands of officials to draw up the document and garner global support just two months after the terror attack.

While it is a voluntary framework, it has been given additional heft after an endorsement from 55 investor funds that will use its $5 trillion in assets to push the tech companies to follow through on their pledges.

And five major tech companies have released a series of commitments, including regular publishing of transparency reports about detecting and removing terrorist or violent extremist content on their online platforms, to strengthen the Call to Action.


They also agree to establish incident management teams to urgently respond to objectionable content.

Facebook has also announced new rules that it says would have prevented the gunman from livestreaming his March 15 act of terrorism.

Governments and tech companies have agreed to develop technology preventing the upload of such content, counter the roots of violent extremism, increase transparency around the detection and removal of such content, and review the business models that can lead social media users down a dark path to radicalisation.

Significantly, tech companies have pledged to review their business models and take action to stop users being funnelled into extremist online rabbit holes that could lead to radicalisation.

Ardern meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Paris.
Ardern meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Paris.

That includes sharing the effects of their commercially-sensitive algorithms to develop effective ways to redirect users away from dark, single narratives.

"This may include using algorithms and other processes to redirect users from such content or the promotion of credible, positive alternatives or counter-narratives," the Christchurch Call to Action document says.

Tech companies and governments also agreed to work together to counter violent extremism by developing interventions to redirect users away from extremist content.

All parties also pledged to invest in developing AI technology to prevent the upload of such content and, if it does get published, to detect and immediately remove it from online platforms.

Facebook has already announced a US$7.5 million investment to improve technology just hours before the summit.

Countries and tech companies to adopt the call to action:

• New Zealand, France, Canada, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, the UK, and the European Commission.
• Countries not present at the summit to sign on are Australia, Germany, Japan, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy.
• Amazon, Facebook, Dailymotion, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter, YouTube.

In what is believed to be a world-first, major tech companies Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon released a joint statement saying they would set out concrete steps to address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist content.

The steps include:

• making terrorist and violent extremist content expressly forbidden
• establishing ways for users to flag such content in a way that will prioritise it for prompt action
• investing in technology that improves capability to detect and remove terrorist and violent extremist content online
• identifying "appropriate checks" on livestreaming, aimed at reducing the risk of terrorist and violent extremist content being shared online.

While the Call to Action is not enforceable and has no specific penalties for non-compliance, an investor group worth a combined $5 trillion has given it some financial muscle.

The group includes 55 funds, including 27 from New Zealand and 28 global funds, and includes Crown-owned investors the New Zealand Super Fund, Accident Compensation Corporation, the Government Superannuation Fund, the National Provident Fund and Kiwi Wealth.

These are the same five funds that joined together after the March 15 terror attack to collectively pressure social media companies to "fulfil their duty of care to prevent harm to their users and to society".

NZ Super Fund chief executive Matt Whineray said they expected to see stronger controls from tech companies to prevent objectionable content being posted online.

"Part of our engagement with social media companies will involve monitoring and ensuring accountability for the Christchurch Call commitments made," Whineray said.

A key aspect of the Call to Action is preserving freedom of expression, abiding by international human rights law, and respecting a free, open and secure internet.

There will also be an expectation for governments to adopt a legal framework in their respective countries to make tech companies more responsible for the online content they host.

"Ultimately this is a first step but a substantial one," Ardern said.

"Countries and companies have come together, and it happened because they saw what happened in Christchurch and committed to making a difference."