This document includes civil society, academia, and technical community perspectives regarding terrorist and violent extremist content online. The document was prepared for the Civil Society leaders’ Voices for Action meeting (14 May 2019) with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to discuss the Christchurch Call by an open call for input and coordination by some of those attending that meeting in Paris, France.
The document was created with input from dozens of members of civil society, including some who were in attendance on 14 May and some who were not. A non-exhaustive list of those individuals is at the bottom of this document.
The Christchurch Call aims to address issues of “terrorism” and “violent extremism” on social media. There are a range of perspectives and voices on these issues from civil society, journalism and news media, academia, and the technical community, as well as survivors and families of victims, who care about and have valuable insight into the issues and how to minimise the harm to people, both online and offline.
This document attempts to capture some of the discussions of a range of civil society, academic, news media, and technical community members in the lead up to the Christchurch Call meetings in Paris. This document includes sections on: key issues of broad agreement, points for further discussion, process issues, and recommendations on relevant further reading.
In these discussions, there was broad support for some of the key values of the Call:
There were also a range of concerns with the Call. The issues with the most shared concern were:
The definition of “terrorism and violent extremism” is extremely important and very problematic if left to states to individually interpret. Civic space is currently under attack across the world—including in many established democracies. A number of democracies have leaders who are viewed by some as openly seeking to erode rule of law and dismantle institutions intended to ensure accountability and public oversight over actions that include human rights violations. It is of vital importance that governments participating in the Christchurch Call commit to robust accountability and oversight to ensure that laws, mechanisms, and other initiatives to combat terrorism online do not result in disproportionate human rights violations of political critics, human rights defenders, journalists, ethnic or religious minorities, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Participating governments should also encourage other governments to do the same. There must be oversight to ensure the Call is not used as proxy legislation to legitimise such actions by governments or companies (both committing to the call and others).
The appropriate roles of tech companies and governments in taking action on these issues were robustly debated as outlined in this Call, including the specific various commitments. There is concern that the commitments made by companies and governments were based on closed-door discussions and on what these parties choose to commit to, where there are broader societal discussions about the appropriate roles of the government and the private sector on these issues, and where views differ greatly on the appropriate roles for each.
What actions are taken to address issues, and by whom, needs to be evidence-based and with a ‘systems perspective’ on the issues, which takes into account the systemic and complex nature of these issues, along with how “terrorism” and “violent extremism” content relate to other platform harms. We acknowledge the Call mentions the support of research and academic efforts, and the use of these to inform action is important. Action must also be taken towards addressing these issues in our society, not just online, including countering the underlying structural and other causes and drivers of “terrorism” and “violent extremism” by strengthening the resilience and inclusiveness of our societies. Just as technology is only part of the problem, it is also only part of the solution.
Related to this, the process and timeline of the Call was a problem in and of itself, including concerns about the siloed approach to negotiations and the exclusion of civil society, academic experts, journalists and news media representatives, and the technical community. We have outlined some specifics around this in an appendix to this document, focused on the process.
In the next steps around commitments of the Call, governments and companies should engage in dialogue with each other as well as civil society, academics, journalists and news media, and the technical community, as well as survivors and families of victims. While the Call is an important response to a tragic moment in time, action on these issues needs to be evidence-based and carefully considered within the broader landscape of platform issues.
Technical solutions need to reflect commitments to human rights and a free, open, and secure Internet. Two specific issues that are particularly problematic in the current Call are the need to:
Below is a fuller list of points for discussion that were raised and debated. All are relevant to the Call, and address issues related to it, including more detail on the points above, as well as points with less commonly held perspective.
The following paragraphs summarise input received from various academics and civil society actors in response to the Call, and serve to synthesise key concerns and points for discussion during and after the Voices for Action meeting in Paris:
Process Issues with Christchurch Call
Civil society participation in the Christchurch Call process has been impacted by various factors:
The Christchurch Call acknowledges that: “governments, online service providers, and civil society may wish to take further cooperative action to address a broader range of harmful online content such as the actions that will be discussed further during the G7 Biarritz Summit, the G20, the Aqaba process, the Five Country Ministerial, and a range of other fora.” Considering the procedural shortcomings in including civil society voices in multilateral fora, civil society participation in the future processes will be mainly dependent on overcoming the current procedural barriers, i.e. not holding the processes in a multilateral setting.
Suggestions for taking the discussion forward (after the Paris meetings) at relevant Internet policy and governance arenas:
Before setting new precedents, we would recommend identifying and reviewing existing declarations, principles, recommendations, laws and by-laws that define and regulate this space and propose checks and balances that hold actors accountable for the impact that their work has on freedom of expression and human rights.
The Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability (2015). https://www.manilaprinciples.org/
The Tshwane Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (2013). https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/tshwane-principles-15-points-09182013.pdf
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011). https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/un-guiding-principles
The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (1996). https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/joburg-principles.pdf
Global Network Initiative Principles on Free Expression and Privacy (updated 2017).
Responses to the European Commission’s Terrorism Regulation
The European Commission’s proposed terrorism regulation raises similar concerns to those expressed above. The following documents, while pertaining specifically to the EC regulation, offer clear recommendations on how to ensure the protection of human rights.
European Digital Rights Initiative (EDRi)’s document pool on the terrorism regulation, https://edri.org/terrorist-content-regulation-document-pool/.
WITNESS-led letter focused on global effect and evidentiary value https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WTgl5hjJ_cAE1U0OjqaQ9AucU6HNlhoi/view
Joint civil society letter regarding the hashing database used by major Silicon Valley companies, https://edri.org/files/counterterrorism/20190205-Civil-Society-Letter-to-EP-Terrorism-Database.pdf
CDT-led civil society letter on the proposed regulation, https://cdt.org/insight/letter-to-ministers-of-justice-and-home-affairs-on-the-proposed-regulation-on-terrorist-content-online/
Joint Letter of the UN Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (2018), https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24234
Global Network Initiative statement on the proposed regulation (2019).
Comprehensive literature review on online content restrictions
A comprehensive 2017 literature review, conducted by London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, found that only a minority of published research supported “hard” approaches such as “the restriction of Internet content for security purposes,” and that “[m]ost work on this topic regards such measures as impractical at best and dangerous at worst.”
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Nick Kaderbhai, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, Research Perspectives on Radicalization: A Literature Review, 2006-2016 (2017), 53, 56.
Neumann, Peter R., Options and Strategies for Countering Online Radicalization in the United States, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (January 2013) 431-459 at 437.
J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter, Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World Analysis Paper No. 20 (March 2015), 54.
Ines von Behr, Anaïs Reding, Charlie Edwards, and Luke Gribbon, Radicalisation in the digital era: The use of the internet in 15 cases of terrorism and extremism, Rand Europe (2013).
Council of Europe, Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries (2018). https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectID=0900001680790e14
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (2018). https://freedex.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/2015/files/2018/05/G1809672.pdf
Global Network Initiative, “Policy Brief: Extremist Content and the ICT Sector,” November 2016. https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Extremist-Content-and-ICT-Sector.pdf
OHCHR, “Comments on legislation and policy,” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/LegislationAndPolicy.aspx
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (2010). https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/a-hrc-16-51.pdf
Michelle Bachelet, “‘Smart mix’ of measures needed to regulate new technologies” (2019). https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24509&LangID=E
Other resources and links
Dr. Courtney Radsch, “Media Development and Countering Violent Extremism: An Uneasy Relationship, a Need for Dialogue,” Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), October 2016. https://www.cima.ned.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/CIMA-CVE-Paper_web-150ppi.pdf
Dr. Kate Ferguson, “Countering violent extremism through media and communication strategies: A review of the evidence,” Partnership for Conflict, Crime, & Security Research, March 2016. http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Countering-Violent-Extremism-Through-Media-and-Communication-Strategies-.pdf
Global Forum for Media Development, “Governing Digital Convergence: An Issue Paper on Media Development and Internet Governance,” November 2018. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hMclf0hz2PXa_VhOl7w2iRhFpvi-NZ0yeY2mJCN6QBA/edit
Global Partners Digital, “A Rights-Respecting Model of Online Content Regulation by Platforms,” May 2018.https://www.gp-digital.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/A-rights-respecting-model-of-online-content-regulation-by-platforms.pdf
Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism (2002). https://www.osce.org/odihr/16609
UNESCO, “Preventing Violent Extremism. https://en.unesco.org/preventing-violent-extremism
The following is a non-exhaustive list of contributors to this document. Additional input was provided by anonymous contributors and during calls leading up to the meetings.
Organizations that endorsed the collective input
Addendum: reflections on process for Christchurch Call Implementation
Since the Call of 15 May, there has been reflecting and discussions on the next steps to be taken around the commitments made in the Christchurch Call.
It is necessary to include diverse voices, and efforts would be needed to support diverse civil society voices in follow up and implementation hence we welcome the commitments made in the Call to:
Where necessary, working to support users through company appeals and complaints processes.
There is broad support for these commitments, however concerns remain on some of the text of Call including: definition of terms such as “terrorist, violent extremist content online”, the unclear scope of “online service providers”, commitment to implement technical solutions that are inconsistent with human rights such as upload filters, and other issues that we have raised in this input.
Any process for implementation of the pledge should consider the shortcomings of the text and provide further clarifications on the terms that are used or discuss whether some clauses should be implemented. The text and any future implementation plan should specifically be analyzed in terms of their impact on human rights and a free, open, secure, interoperable and globally connected Internet.
We recommend that engagement with civil society, academia, and the technical community on the implementation work for the Call can allow the mitigation of unintended and undesired outcomes and addressing some of these concerns.
It is therefore recommended that in implementation and next steps the following principles are applied:
We understand that work streams are being developed on implementation aspects of the Call, including the reforming of GIFCT, crisis response, algorithms and research. In relation to these workstreams we suggest that: