The Biden administration joined a 2019 global pledge crafted in the wake of the massacre at two Christchurch mosques in order to rein in extremist content online.
The Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online “outlines collective, voluntary commitments from Governments and online service providers intended to address the issue of terrorist and violent extremist content online and to prevent the abuse of the internet as occurred in and after the Christchurch attacks.” Australian gunman Brenton Tarrant, who pleaded guilty last year to 51 murders and 40 attempted murders at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center and was sentenced to life in prison, livestreamed on Facebook the first 17 minutes of the attacks, beginning as he drove to Al Noor and ending before he reached Linwood.
Tarrant’s 74-page manifesto, which railed against immigrants and described himself as an “ethno-nationalist,” and the attack footage continue to be freshly posted in online forums though social media companies said they initially acted swiftly to remove copies.
“All action on this issue must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression,” says the Christchurch call, initially signed by several countries including France, Germany, and the UK and tech companies including Google and Amazon. “It must also recognize the internet’s ability to act as a force for good, including by promoting innovation and economic development and fostering inclusive societies.”
The Trump administration refused to sign on to the pledge, citing concerns that it could violate the First Amendment and stating that “the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”
The State Department said today that the United States “endorses the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online, formally joining those working together under the rubric of the Call to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting the Internet,” adding that “for the United States, countering domestic violent extremism — including racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism — is a compelling priority.”
Spokesman Ned Price said in the statement that through its participation in the Christchurch Call “the United States will not take steps that would violate the freedoms of speech and association protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, nor violate people’s reasonable expectations of privacy.”
“We will continue to collaborate with other governments and online service providers on a voluntary basis to support their efforts to counter terrorist content on the Internet,” Price said. “The position of the United States remains unchanged and consistent with our longstanding ideals: We encourage technology companies to develop and enforce terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist and violent extremist purposes. We continue to believe that promoting credible alternative narratives to expose false terrorist and violent extremist narratives is an important means of countering terrorist and violent extremist content online. Put simply, we remain of the view that the preferred way to defeat terrorist and violent extremist speech is more speech: to counter it with credible, alternative narratives that promote rather than restrict free expression.”
Price said the U.S. would “highlight the importance of ensuring that governments do not abuse the Call as justification for restrictions on internationally protected human rights, including the freedoms of individuals to seek, receive, and impart information through their media of choice.”
“We note the importance of technology companies developing transparent criteria and robust safeguards to ensure the application of any terms of service is consistent with fundamental freedoms,” he said. “The urgent need to counter the exploitation of the Internet by terrorists and violent extremists to promote violence should not overshadow the equally compelling need to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, for people everywhere.”
“We welcome the important momentum that the Christchurch Call has generated and look forward to continuing our work with government, technology sector partners, civil society, and other stakeholders to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting the Internet while protecting its openness, interoperability, reliability, and security.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that by joining the pledge the U.S. “reinforces the need for collective action” and that the United States “looks forward to participating in the Christchurch Call Second Anniversary virtual summit on May 14.”