Podcast: The Detail

What will the Paris social media conference achieve?

On Wednesday, world leaders and tech giants will meet in Paris to talk social media. Specifically, they will be looking at how to stop extremism spreading online, in the wake of terror attacks like that seen in Christchurch. Sitting in the room will be some of the biggest technology giants in the world; Facebook, Twitter and Google among them.

The summit’s dubbed the Christchurch Call and was announced in April by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alongside France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. But on the eve of the summit, exactly what is being discussed, or what result Ardern and Macron are hoping for, is still unclear.

“The way that I’ve described it is a set of specific expectations on government... and internet companies as well,” Jacinda Ardern told reporters when announcing the summit.

“What it isn’t is a draft set of regulation or a proposal in that sense, because some of it comes down to the day-to-day practices that we see online.”

Newsroom journalist Thomas Coughlan has been covering the build up to the summit, and said while the Christchurch call seems vague, it will likely focus in on very specific issues.

“Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter really don’t want to get into the issue of freedom of speech online, the issue of hate speech… all these really knotty political issues at the moment.

“What governments are saying with this Christchurch Call is, ‘Look, these issues of freedom of speech and hate speech… are best dealt with somewhere else,” he said.

“If we get into that space we’re really not going to able to have any consensus at all. Let’s focus on violent terrorism, violent extremism, stuff that represents a very immediate and present danger.”

Coughlan said representatives at the summit would be looking to produce a specific document, “with specific wording; some specific commitment from those tech companies that when stuff like that goes up, it gets taken down really fast – and ideally it doesn’t go up in the first place.”

While the actual text of the agreement isn’t known, some key attendees are. Representatives from Canada and the United Kingdom are going to attend, alongside executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and US President Donald Trump will be absent. Asian social media giants WeChat and Weibo aren’t on the list as it stands, but Jacinda Ardern said they were welcome to attend if they wanted.

The people running the anonymous internet forums now known for hosting extreme content – namely 8 Chan and 4 Chan - are also unlikely to show up or take part in the summit.

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