Praise for NZ-France anti-extremist initiative

Robert Patman
Robert Patman
Dunedin international relations specialist Robert Patman has welcomed as ''absolutely spot on'' a New Zealand and French initiative to stop social media being used to promote terrorism and violent extremism.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed yesterday that she and French president Emmanuel Macron would try to bring world leaders and technology companies together to stop terrorism and violent extremism being promoted.

The move follows the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

The meeting, in Paris on May 15, will be co-chaired by Ms Ardern and Mr Macron.

The aim is for world leaders and chief executives of tech companies to agree to a pledge called the ''Christchurch Call'' to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Prof Patman, of the University of Otago politics department, said seeking a ''voluntary code'' among social media companies was the necessary ''first step'' for improvement.

''It's difficult to do anything other than a voluntary code at the moment-we don't have international enforcement''.

Most New Zealanders were ''absolutely appalled'' by the Christchurch terrorist attack, and part of our duty to the victims was to ''make sure it did not happen again''.

''There's a growing recognition, particularly with the rise of far Right terrorism, that hate narratives which have been allowed to be recycled on social media can have explosive consequences.''

New Zealand could not rely on the leadership of Britain, which was preoccupied with Brexit, or of the United States ''to make the running for them'' on this issue.

''They actually have to take the initiative themselves, with like-minded countries.''

New Zealand was starting to ''throw off'' the mistaken view ''that we're too small to make a difference''.

He was optimistic New Zealand, if joined by France and some other countries, could enjoy some success in its campaign, given widespread international concerns about related issues.

Social media clearly offered positive benefits.

But as well as ''deeply disturbing'' hate narratives on Facebook and other social media, there were ''really worrying'' threats to personal privacy and to democracy itself that had emerged during the UK's Brexit campaign and in the last US presidential election.

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