Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants pledge to crack down on violent extremism in ‘Christchurch call to action’

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Microsoft executives Brad Smith, Satya Nadella and Amy Hood take questions from shareholders in November 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

A who’s who of U.S. tech and social media giants is joining forces with international leaders to fight the violent extremism that has found a voice on their platforms.

On Wednesday, execs from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and others will join French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Paris for the “Christchurch call to action.” The partnership is named for the town of Christchurch, New Zealand, where 51 people were killed in an attack on mosques that was streamed on social media.

Q&A: Microsoft President Brad Smith on ‘historic’ international partnership to curb online extremism

As part of the call to action, the companies unveiled a series of commitments to stem the flow of violent content on their platforms. Some of the work is already underway through the Global Internet Forum. The group was founded two years ago by Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to create a shared database of terrorist content and machine learning tools to identify violent images.

“We really put a stake in the ground today and said that, as an industry, we don’t want to make protection against terrorism a point of competition but rather an element of cooperation,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith in an interview following the launch event.

The pledge announced Wednesday expands on that initiative. The companies are committing to:

  • Update terms of use to specifically forbid terrorist and violent extremist content
  • Create a ‘violent extremist and terrorist content’ category users can select when flagging inappropriate content. That category will be prioritized by moderators.
  • Invest in technologies that detect this type of content including “digital fingerprinting and AI-based technology solutions”
  • Explore ways to better police livestreaming.
  • Regularly publish reports on terrorist and violent extremist content detected on their platforms.

Some of those resolutions were already in place before Wednesday’s announcement, like investing in content-detection tools and forbidding violence on the platforms. But Smith said that each commitment, “builds on work underway, but in each case takes it farther.”

In March, Smith published a blog post calling for action from his tech industry peers in the wake of the New Zealand massacre. The partnership announced Wednesday started as a conversation between Smith and Ardern in New Zealand following the attack.

“As an industry, tech companies created new services to bring out the best – not the worst – in people,” Smith wrote. “To break down boundaries, not sow division. But as with virtually every technology ever invented, people are using digital services for both good and ill.”

The White House will not be joining the call to action but is supportive of its premise, according to The Washington Post. Leaders of other countries, like the UK and Canada, plan to sign onto the pledge.

In addition to the commitments announced Wednesday, the companies participating plan to develop open-source or shared tools for detecting violent content across their platforms. They’ll also form incident management teams to respond in moments of crisis, like Christchurch.

“The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March were a horrifying tragedy,” the companies said in a joint statement. “And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Smith.

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