Following the horrific terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the New Zealand government, in partnership with France, launched a new multistakeholder initiative, the Christchurch Call. The goal of the Call is to address the dissemination of content related to terrorism and violent extremism while upholding human rights and an interoperable, global and open Internet.
A number of civil society groups from around the world came together to draft a response to the Call, pointing out areas of concern for human rights and a free, open, and secure Internet. The Christchurch Call Advisory Network formed in the summer of 2019, following informal engagement by some groups with the founding governments of France and New Zealand. The Call seeks to address a challenging issue, and so many of those concerns are still relevant today.
Over the past couple of years, the Christchurch Call Advisory Network has made significant progress in self-organizing and developing clear Terms of Reference to establish criteria for its membership. In a truly bottom-up fashion, the network has grown and evolved. The active members of the Network include individuals and groups with expertise in freedom of expression, journalism, content moderation, Internet freedom, technical aspects of the Internet, misinformation, extremism, and more. Some members of our Network have experienced first-hand the impacts of extremism online and offline, and have experienced and documented the impacts of poorly-designed policies intended to eradicate “terrorist and violent extremist content.” Others have a long history in understanding how regulation and policies can create unintended consequences to the architecture of the Internet and undermine the ability of networks to interoperate, as well as of individuals to realize their human rights.
As a Network, we’ve provided advice and consultation to policy efforts undertaken by the Christchurch Call and related initiatives wherever possible. We’ve also organized learning sessions to share our expertise with each other. However, there is always room for improvement. As we reflect on our work over the past two years and look forward to how we want to continue to engage, we want to see governments and tech companies collaborate more effectively with the Network to address critical issues that relate to the Call and are often reflected in national and/or regional legislation.
We remain optimistic that the goal of the Call–specifically to bring together civil society, government, the technical community and companies in a multistakeholder initiative to address the challenges raised by terrorist content online–is a worthy one. At the same time, in seeking to address current challenges, it is vital that practical steps are put in place for more active and robust engagement and consultation. The Call should function as a means to build real and trustworthy relationships between different actors, including through better information-sharing, working methods and opportunities for timely advice on matters related to the Call.
As the two year anniversary of the Christchurch Call reminds us, the need to address terrorist and violent extremist content online is greater than ever. Unfortunately, so too are the threats to human rights and a free, open, and secure Internet. With renewed energy, we are looking forward to providing a strong civil society voice in this much-needed work.
The Christchurch Call Advisory Network