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:
- 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);
- 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,
- combating filter bubbles,
- drawing up a shared framework for data-sharing that protects the privacy and fundamental rights of users;
- 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:
- The GIFCT is now a non-profit organization independent of its four founding companies.
- The Crisis Response Protocol was shared and reviewed with representatives of governments, companies and civil society supporting the Christchurch Call during the two days of workshops organized by Google in Wellington on 3 and 4 December 2019;
- The new Independent Advisory Committee was officially launched. This Committee is made up of representatives of States (Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan and Ghana), the European Commission and United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, as well as 12 civil society organizations (including organizations specialized in combatting terrorism and violent extremism, defenders of digital technology, freedom of expression and human rights and academics), which make up the majority of the group;
- The GIFCT has recruited its first Executive Director, Nicholas Rasmunssen.
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. Two years on from its launch, the Christchurch Call is now supported by 54 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 47 organizations is consulted twice a month. It was questioned in 2020 during a large consultation of Christchurch Call supporters, in order to better understand how these supporters were implementing their Christchurch commitment and identify measures to be taken to continue making progress. The main themes identified include improving the response in times of crisis, publishing transparency reports, implementing measures to cover all the content under the “terrorist and violent extremist content” category and expanding the community of Christchurch Call supporters. These themes were central to the Summit marking the second anniversary of the Christchurch Call, which took place on 14 May 2021.
The Christchurch call is an ambitious initiative and France remains attentive to the work carried out under its commitments. It is a member of the Independent Advisory Council of the reformed GIFCT alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Ghana and New Zealand.
Structure of the reformed GIFCT
The GIFCT has become a non-profit organization, which is legally independent from its four founding companies. The new structure of this reformed GIFCT is organized around:
- An Operating Board, made up of four founding companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube). Other members could be added (small companies and non-governmental organizations). The Operating Board is responsible for recruitment of the Executive Director.
- An Independent Advisory Committee (IAC), made up of government representatives (Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan and Ghana), the European Commission, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and 12 civil society organizations.
- A permanent team, made up of an executive director and a general secretariat, responsible for implementing the GIFCT’s three strategic pillars (prevention, response and studies).
- Working groups, formed by the Executive Director to address the priorities of the Operating Board and Independent Advisory Committee. The main work themes concern legal aspects, technical aspects, academic research and practice, crisis management protocol, the impact of algorithms, and intervention mechanisms.
- A multi-actor annual forum for sharing information and best practices between States, civil society and companies. Participants receive bi-annual GIFCT reports and can communicate during the year via teleconferences and online seminars.
GIFCT membership is free. The members can be companies of any size, which must make a commitment in terms of transparency and respect for human rights.