Tēnā koutou tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.
Hello to all of our Christchurch Call whānau.
This is my first opportunity to speak with you, and to acknowledge you all since I was appointed the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for the Christchurch Call. I am humbled by the opportunity to continue working with you all, on issues I know we all feel deeply about.
15 March 2019 is a date that will forever be etched on my consciousness. As the events of that day unfolded and the horror of what happened in Christchurch became apparent, with the loss of 51 lives, we all saw how the internet was instrumentalised by the attacker, how his acts were amplified, and his message of hate was spread.
I was determined from the earliest days following the attack to do what I could to prevent something like this happening again. And in that determination, I was not alone. It is what brings us together today.
This was not just New Zealand’s tragedy. The attacker drew on ideologies and methods shared online and intended his actions to inspire further such attacks. His livestream and manifesto spread far and wide. They were iterated upon, repurposed into other formats and media, and spread deliberately across the internet.
The internet is an indispensable part of our lives. It reflects the good and the bad things about our society and, despite its ills, we experience the immense value it brings for human development, prosperity, and democratic dialogue. To me, it was important our response to 15 March reinforced the internet as a global force for good, even as we sought to address the harm caused.
Such a task required more than just the capabilities of an individual government or business. It required a whole community of organisations and people, including those with lived experience, technical capability, and the knowledge and skills to work this through together. A diverse, interdisciplinary community, underpinned by shared commitments and values.
It also required commitment at a leadership level to make meaningful, positive change. Four years ago today we started that journey, in Paris alongside President Macron, Leaders from Government and the technology sector, and representatives of civil society I know many of the people who were there, or contributed to that first Christchurch Call meeting, are here today as we continue our journey.
We set ourselves ambitious goals. These included implementing and enforcing policies that meaningfully address the proliferation of terrorist and violent extremist content and creating the means for technical capabilities to be developed, tested, updated, and shared across industry.
We committed to achieve progress through a multistakeholder approach. To build a community where a diverse group of participants and partners - including civil society - had a voice and an active role.
A community, where diverse perspectives and ideas could be debated and tested; and where we could all work together on the rapidly evolving problem of terrorist and violent extremist content online.
Underpinning this was the need to protect and promote human rights and a free, open, secure internet, and to be transparent, open, and accountable across our work.
I am proud today to be speaking with a globe-spanning multistakeholder community that has achieved many of those goals and made a positive impact.
- We have developed new policies and ways of working that holistically address the complexities of terrorist and violent extremist content.
- We have established new crisis protocols to respond effectively and in a coordinated manner to attacks with an online component.
- We worked as a community to establish the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism as an independent NGO. This created the opportunity for the GIFCT to become a more fully multistakeholder construct, develop integrated solutions, and share information and expertise, should it choose to. I know we still have work to do to fulfil this vision.
- We now better understand the online ecosystem and the experiences of affected communities, having led collaborative research across our community.
- And we have built a strong and diverse multistakeholder community.
Achieving this has not been straightforward.
- For governments, it has meant acknowledging the limits of our individual regulatory and enforcement powers as the means of solving issues we face online, and facing up to some of the offline factors that contribute to online harms.
- For industry, it has meant working with direct competitors, sharing valuable knowledge and expensive capabilities, and taking on responsibility for human rights outcomes that go beyond business as usual.
- For civil society, it has meant going beyond campaign and advocacy approaches to influencing and developing outcomes from inside the tent.
- And for our growing group of Call partners, it has meant finding a place to contribute expertise, research, and knowledge about what works, and what doesn’t.
For each of us, it has also brought rewards: the ability to speak frankly about the detail of the issues we face, to develop durable solutions and foster solidarity among us.
I am also conscious of the many things we still have left to do:
- We must continue our work to understand the impacts of algorithmic systems, their interactions with users, the risks they may create for radicalisation and proliferation, as well as the most effective means of intervention;
- We must keep thinking about how we empower users and communities in the online environment;
- We must continue learning from the ongoing, tragic attacks that occur too frequently, to put impacted communities at the centre of our work, and address the changing tactics and methods employed by terrorist and violent extremists online;
- We must engage meaningfully with young people;
- We must confront the reality of gender-based hatred and abuse as a factor in radicalisation and violence;
- We must constantly look ahead, considering emergent technologies and their impacts and opportunities, including powerful new AI tools, all while ensuring we continue to fulfil our Call Commitments.
The governance of the internet and of digital technologies is becoming a highly contested space, reflecting the strategic significance of the challenges technology brings with it.
The global and general-purpose nature of new technologies requires approaches that are multistakeholder, global, and grounded in a commitment to human rights, freedom, openness, and security, just as the Call is.
We cannot take these principles (as natural as they are to us) for granted; rather, we must actively uphold them and ensure the internet reflects them.
When people are looking for ways to address risks and harms online, I want them to see the Christchurch Call and its community as a positive model for what can be achieved when we focus on shared objectives and a common purpose.
As more institutions and global organisations seek to shape our new digitally empowered age, I want them to see the power of working with others, of sharing the tasks and governance responsibilities in communities just like this one.
Four years on from our first meeting in Paris, we have begun to show what is possible. Today is an opportunity to reflect on that progress, as a community.
And yet our work is not done. We still have a shared challenge. To deepen our efforts, anticipating and dealing with the advent of new technologies. Ensuring a sustainable basis for our work, in a trusted environment. And, above all else, to make the internet a safer place for everyone.
I am looking forward to our ongoing work together to deliver on this. And, as part of that, along with other Call community leaders, re-convening in September to consider and give impetus to our work.
In the meantime, thank you for your work as part of our community.
Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.