The Christchurch Call, one year on

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The terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 15 March 2019, was premeditated by its perpetrator who livestreamed it on social media. The video was streamed for several minutes and shared with a very wide audience, even after being cut off. After these dreadful attacks, the streaming of murders on social media began on a tragic scale never seen before.

This tragedy showed that the means established previously by companies to combat the posting of terrorist content on their platform were insufficient.

Aware of these limits, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron brought together around a dozen national and tech leaders in Paris on 15 May 2019 to launch the “Christchurch Call” to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The Christchurch Call was drawn up as a series of commitments from Governments, companies and civil society in order to combat violent extremist and terrorist content online more effectively and with greater coordination, while respecting the founding values of the Internet: transparency, openness and the protection of fundamental rights.

This unprecedented cooperation has already achieved significant results.

In September 2019, during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and following several series of negotiations with tech companies, the President of the French Republic and the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced:

1. An overhaul of the structure and governance of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), shifting towards greater independence from the Forum’s founding companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube);

2. The creation of working groups within the reformed GIFCT dedicated to research into the use of the Internet by violent extremists and terrorists in order to better understand the phenomenon, as well as combating filter bubbles and drawing up a shared framework for data-sharing that protects the privacy and fundamental rights of users;

3. A Shared Crisis Response Protocol to be used by Governments and companies, drawing on the work carried out by Europol and the European Commission in order to respond swiftly and effectively in the event of a terrorist attack and/or of viral terrorist content online.

The implementation of these announcements is ongoing.

Since September 2019, the founding companies of the GIFCT have:

  • Made the Forum a non-profit organization independent of its founders. It is now a Delaware-based US-law NGO.
  • Organized two days of workshops (YouTube) in Wellington on 3 and 4 December 2019 with representatives of companies, Governments and civil society in order to strengthen the Shared Crisis Response Protocol established under the Christchurch Call;
  • Launched the selection process for civil society organizations that wish to join the Independent Advisory Committee;
  • Recruited an Executive Director.

In addition to these achievements, the Christchurch Call has helped strengthen cooperation between France, Governments supporting the Call and the major tech companies on combating online terrorist content. It has also generated new dialogue with international civil society. One year on from its launch, the Christchurch Call is now supported by 48 Governments, the European Commission, the Council of Europe, UNESCO and the major online service providers (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Dailymotion, Twitter, YouTube and Qwant).

In order to involve civil society in the implementation of the commitments made in Paris, France and New Zealand have worked to foster the emergence of a Christchurch Call Advisory Network of international civil society organizations. This network of 44 organizations is consulted regularly.

The Christchurch call is an ambitious initiative and France remains attentive to the work carried out under its commitments. As a member of the Independent Advisory Committee of the reformed GIFCT (alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Ghana and New Zealand), France will be particularly vigilant as to the swift establishment of the working groups.