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New Zealand prime minister targets online hate after mosque attacks

New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Arden will demand action to curb online extremism, citing the worst mass killing in her country’s recent history at a summit of world leaders and tech firms in Paris Wednesday.

A self-described white supremacist killed 51 Muslims in the Christchurch mosque attacks on 15 March. During the assault the man wore a head-mounted camera, broadcasting his actions online.

Ardern has been the driving force behind the Paris summit, co-hosted with French President Emmanuel Macron, following the tragedy.

Participants will be asked to commit to a “Christchurch Call” pledge — named after the city — designed to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Ardern said the Christchurch massacre underlined “a horrifying new trend” in extremist atrocities.

“It was designed to be broadcast on the internet. The entire event was live streamed… the scale of this horrific video’s reach was staggering,” she said in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

Ardern said Facebook removed 1.5 million copies of the video within 24 hours of the attack, but she still found herself among those who inadvertently saw the footage when it auto-played on their social media feeds.

Since the attack, Ardern has strongly criticised tech giants for not doing enough to combat online extremism.

Attendees at the Paris summit reportedly include heads of state or government from Britain, Canada, Ireland, Norway, Jordan, Senegal, Indonesia. Top executives from Twitter, Microsoft Google and Amazon will also attend.

But New Zealand media reported that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg will not be there — instead of sending the company’s vice president of global affairs and communications, former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Running alongside the G7’s “Tech for Humanity” meeting in the French capital, Ardern said the Christchurch Call was a voluntary code aimed to stop terrorist content being uploaded to social media platforms.

“(We’re) asking both nations and private corporations to make changes to prevent the posting of terrorist content online, to ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks,” she said.

She added: “This is not about undermining or limiting freedom of speech. It is about these companies and how they operate.”

While some — such as Zuckerberg — have called for better regulation to address the issue, Ardern said governments could not succeed without help from the tech sector.

“Practical outcomes are what we’re seeking from this work,” she told New Zealand’s Newshub.

“Not just governments regulating, but actually tech companies taking ownership and responsibility over their platforms and the technological solutions that they hold the key to.”

Ardern said New Zealand had been “left reeling” by the Christchurch massacre, and it wanted to prevent similar atrocities happening elsewhere.

“We have a reluctant duty of care, a responsibility that we now find ourselves holding,” she said.

“That is what we will be taking forward this week in Paris.”

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