online extremism

White House Refuses to Sign Accord to Fight Online Extremism After Christchurch

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron announcing the launch of a global initiative to tackle the spread of extremism online. Photo: Yoan Valat/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron met Wednesday in Paris to garner support for the Christchurch Call, an intergovernmental effort to stifle online extremism in the wake of the mosque attacks in March that killed 50 people. But the United States, a country that faces a rising tide of far-right extremism propelled by sympathetic online communities, has politely declined to heed the call.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a statement saying that it stands with Ardern and Macron in “condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online,” but would ultimately pass on the initiative, citing concerns about “freedom of expression and freedom of the press.” The office added that the “best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech,” a phrase that echoes the sentiment of so many post-shooting “thoughts and prayers.”

The White House further kicked the can of responsibility down the road when it said that it encourages “technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist purpose,” rather than voluntarily sign on to the bill, as Germany, Senegal, the U.K., and 14 other countries did. As Vox notes, policing a network as large as Facebook for videos of shootings like Christchurch — which was broadcast live on the site and successfully uploaded by users some 200,000 times — is like “playing a game of whack-a-mole.”

Without impinging on First Amendment rights, surely the White House can find some middle ground and join the Christchurch Call, as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter also did. Aside from being a nonbinding policy layup, cosigning the anti-extremism project could help rehabilitate the “very fine people on both sides” administration’s image on countering far-right terrorism.

As New York’s Jonah Shepp posited last week, President Trump has not only “downplayed the threat of white-supremacist terrorism and failed to convincingly distance himself from the neo-Nazi fringes of his base, his administration has taken concrete steps to shift government resources away from addressing the threat these extremist groups pose.” To pass on a freebie international effort like that offered by Ardern and Macron further suggests just how disinterested this administration is in dealing with far-right extremism in America — online or not.

White House Won’t Sign Agreement to Fight Online Extremism