The White House on Wednesday refused to support a New Zealand-fronted initiative to curb online extremism in the wake of March’s live-streamed terrorist attacks on two Christchurch mosques, the Washington Post reports. Eighteen governments and American tech firms committed to the “Christchurch Call” to help stem the spread of hate speech on social media, but U.S. officials abstained over concerns for free speech protection.
Organized by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron, the voluntary commitment encourages media outlets “to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online” and limit the spread of terrorist and extremist content. It also promises that committed governments will develop education and media literacy campaigns to combat the spread of extremist misinformation while also improving their enforcement of applicable laws and regulatory measures.
Though U.S. officials said they support the initiative’s goals, it is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement,” according to the Post. The White House voiced concerned that the measure might violate First Amendment rights guaranteeing free expression.
“Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging,” the White House said, per the Post.
President Donald Trump did not attend the gathering of international leaders. He has similarly failed to condemn far-right extremism in the past, spreading such content on his Twitter account and infamously blaming “both sides” for the violence that erupted during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
More than 50 people were killed in Christchurch, New Zealand, while the shooter broadcast live footage of the events. Facebook, Google, and Twitter were particularly criticized for not taking the footage down before it spread on the internet. The companies joined Wednesday’s pledge, promising to increase monitoring of terrorist activity on their sites and better accommodate information sharing with governments. They were also among a group including Amazon and Microsoft that gave a joint statement saying “it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.”
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