Justin Trudeau will be attending the Paris meeting for the Christchurch Call along with Emmanuel Macron and Jacinda Ardern. Leaders are expected to sign on to the non-binding pledge to urge both international governments and global tech companies to find ways to curb extremist, violent content online.
The Christchurch Call is Ardern’s plan to stop anything like the March 15th Christchurch terrorist massacre from happening anywhere, ever again. While the intention is laudable, and her desire to protect not only New Zealand but the entire world is noble, it’s not something that can be done through a non-binding pledge that has no accountability nor any actual guidelines.
The Post Millennial has previously reported on how Trudeau’s government has totalitarian aspirations regarding the monitoring and censorship of Canadians’ social media. Combined with the more recent news that the feds are constructing a “government-approved” list of media outlets, the Christchurch Call brings us one step closer to this Orwellian reality.
The crux of the problem is, as the CBC noted, that “…while the details of the non-binding pledge up for approval in Paris tomorrow are sketchy at this point, the New York Times reports it will call on social media firms to examine software that directs users to violent content and ask them to share more data with government authorities to find and eliminate violent, extremist material.”
This is a non-binding agreement. There is nothing actionable about it necessarily. However, non-binding agreements are often used to implement public policy. In the case of the Christchurch Call, we are being told to trust the New York Times and Facebook as well as foreign governments like New Zealand and France, to provide guidance regarding our free speech. There is no good reason to trust those entities to protect our rights. In fact, they consistently violate them.
Social media companies rely primarily on users to report problematic content, or content that violates standards. They have limited human capital to oversee and monitor the complaints or the platform itself. They need their platforms to be open to individuals, companies, and advertisers from every corner of the international community. They have been trying to narrow down content that violates their “trust and safety” standards and remove it from their platforms. They keep trying. They have been unable to successfully do it. Having world leaders breathe down their necks and demand it will not change how hard they are trying to navigate these tricky waters.
Facebook and Twitter have come under scrutiny for banning users for violating standards, and those users have fought back, because in many cases, these have been ideological bans. Noted feminist Megan Murphy is suing Twitter over having been banned. The claims made against her were that she was inciting violence, but of course, she was only using her words. This week, Twitter banned a parody of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has admitted that the platform is more trigger-happy in banning conservative accounts than progressive ones. What’s to say that the kind of biases we are already seeing in social media wouldn’t continue? How would Ardern, Macron, and Trudeau like social media companies to handle complaints of violent speech that are really just about users being offended by words?
Exactly what constitutes extremist content needs to be defined. The live stream of the Christchurch massacre is definitely extremist content, as are things like beheadings, stonings, abuse, murder, animal cruelty, and all manner of other miserable things. This kind of content is violent, and there are lots of people who absolutely do not want to be exposed to it, or for their children or elderly parents to see it. That’s fine, and that’s a reasonable perspective.
Activists have been continually pushing for lawmakers and corporations to capitulate to their bizarre formulation that speech = violence. It doesn’t. But now, world leaders including Trudeau will be signing on to a vague pledging to limit speech in undetermined ways, and to urge other leaders to do the same.
But recall: in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch tragedy, there was a panicked overcorrection that led to a ban of Jordan Peterson’s bestselling self-help book, the completely asinine idea being that somehow it led people to violent ideation. We live in a culture where a respected publication can actually claim with all seriousness that masculinity is a terrorist ideology. If insults are violence and masculinity is terrorism, then just imagine how bad actors will abuse the principles of the Christchurch Call to achieve their censorious aims.
The internet is not a safe place. Nor should it be. In that way, it’s very similar to actual life. There’s no reason to believe that horrible things will stay in their place, far away from our peaceful nations. Horrible things don’t stay put. There are plenty of examples of violent, extremist content that one could imagine ought to be shared. It was the documentary footage that came back from Vietnam that helped mobilize a generation against war. Videos that show wretched conditions of animal cruelty spur action against things like puppy mills and veal farms.
The Christchurch massacre was a deeply miserable tragedy, and it would be easy to enact restrictive speech policies in the name of those victims who lost their lives. The question isn’t, however, how to restrict speech, but whether or not that would produce the desired result. If the desired result is that individuals eschew terrorist and extremist ideologies, do not embark upon senseless violence, and care deeply for their fellow humans, limiting their capability of independent, thoughtful action is not the way to do it.
On the issue of free speech, Canadians should not be taking any guidance from a country that has an official government position of “Chief Censor” and is using a compassion overload as a justification to encourage a co-ordinated international policing of speech.
At this point, there is no way to prevent Justin Trudeau from committing Canada to the Christchurch Call. But we, as Canadians, must assert our rights to freedom of expression. We don’t need “a coordinated global response” to what we say and think. We need to be ever-vigilant in rejecting the principles of censorship behind the well-intentioned but deeply flawed pledge.