What is crisis response?
Crisis or incident response is how governments and online service providers work together to limit the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content online following a real-world attack.
A major focus of our crisis response work has been on developing, testing and improving protocols for crisis situations. These set out when and how we will act and communicate across different sectors. This includes international, regional and domestic actions, in collaboration with civil society and community groups. The protocols include guidance of when specific cross-industry processes and tools will be used to enable swift detection and removal of content on different services. An example of this is hash-sharing, where content is given a unique hash, like a digital fingerprint, which is shared across services, making it easier for automated systems to identify that content.
Crisis response also includes the work that online service providers do to improve the safety of services like livestreaming.
Why this is important
The objective of the Call Community’s work on crisis response is to deny terrorists and violent extremists the ability to use the internet to draw attention to crimes and spread messages of hate directly to a global audience. The aim is to prevent and reduce harm to vulnerable individuals and groups in an immediate sense, but also by ensuring the content does not persist online and contribute to ongoing trauma and future attacks.
The focus for crisis response is perpetrator- or accomplice-produced content. It is often graphically violent. Because it is so harmful, this kind of content is illegal in many jurisdictions and violates the terms of service or community standards of online service providers that support the Call.
What has been achieved
The Call Community has developed a suite of interlocking crisis response protocols.
The Christchurch Call Crisis Response Protocol was the first, overarching initiative. It establishes:
- what constitutes a crisis
- the actions different sectors of the Call Community will take
- how we will communicate with one another
- when a crisis is over.
Importantly, the Call Crisis Response Protocol also contains guidance on principles to protect and respect human rights and a free, open and secure internet, as well as to ensure transparency and accountability, including through debriefs following a crisis response.
Other protocols include the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) Content Incident Protocol, which was developed to operate alongside the Crisis Response Protocol. There is also the European Union Crisis Protocol and several domestic ones, including for example the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs’ Online Crisis Response Process. These protocols can be activated singly or in combination, depending on the location of an attack, who has been impacted by it, and how related content is manifesting online.
The protocols are dynamic. They are tested, expanded and refined, based on experience and as real-world threats, technical capabilities, and policy contexts change.
Since 2019, the protocols have been tested on multiple occasions, including in response to real-world attacks, and as a result have been updated in different ways. The Christchurch Call implemented an update to its Crisis Response Protocol in 2021.
Crisis response in action: Buffalo attack 2022
The value of the Call Community’s work on crisis response was clear after the Buffalo terrorist attack in May 2022. The perpetrator’s livestream was terminated quickly and the GIFCT activated its Content Incident Protocol to enable hash-sharing among its members. New Zealand’s Classification Office made a swift interim determination that the video and manifesto were objectionable and therefore illegal that country. Based on that determination, Tech Against Terrorism was then able to incorporate the content into its Terrorist Content Analytics Platform. This rapid and coordinated response meant that the content was much less prevalent on mainstream platforms.
Current focus and future challenges
The Call Community continues to work on strengthening crisis response in accordance with the workplan endorsed by leaders in 2021. In addition to the Crisis Response Protocol update and various table top exercises, members of the Call Community have done a mapping and gap analysis for all crisis protocols, and established human rights indicators to guide crisis response practitioners.
It is unrealistic to expect that we will ever be able to eliminate all perpetrator- or accomplice-produced violent or extremist online content related to real-world attacks. However, the Call Community will keep striving to suppress this content and minimise the harm associated with it. That will require us to continue bringing new and diverse online service providers into the Call and crisis response, and adapting our protocols and tools as technologies and threats change.