President Donald Trump’s White House issued a statement claiming it will not be joining New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron in their global campaign to pressure social media and tech companies to curb extremist content online.
Known as the Christchurch call, the non-biding agreement seeks to create a series of guidelines for online outlets, which could later be used by lawmakers in individual countries as a legislation model.
The Christchurch call urges online platforms to invest in technology using artificial intelligence that is capable of detecting and removing violent and extremist content. For that to work, the call asks that tech firms work together to harvest more data to accelerate that process. Furthermore, it asks that better flagging methods are put in place so users themselves can report inappropriate content with ease.
With its call for greater vetting and moderating processes, the campaign seems to be pushing to make what users post the online platform’s responsibility, an approach that could lead to the creation of restrictive internet regulations that would eventually force social media companies to be much more prone to censorship. Additionally, the creation of a more effective reporting tool could end up giving online companies more power to punish users with unpopular opinions — something that’s already a reality thanks to the growing online movement for a sanitized internet.
While the call is a non-biding agreement, meaning that nations involved wouldn’t be passing any enforceable laws, it is clear that this movement could lead to the passing of anti-free speech rules in the countries that signed on it. A potential outcome that may have played an important role in the White House’s reasoning.
In the public statement regarding the call, the White House didn’t touch on specifics but ended up confirming that it shares the campaign’s sentiment, even if it’s not willing to join the movement.
“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call,” the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy said. “We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the Internet.”
In order to help curb terrorism online, the White House continued, it believes that “the best tool … is productive speech” and advocated “promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”
While Trump isn’t known for his love of free speech, as he has often threatened news outlets with lawsuits for posting unflattering stories, you can’t help but notice that his administration’s position, at least on the surface, is the least likely to develop into flat-out censorship. As a matter of fact, by saying that productive speech is the best way to fight terrorism, the White House is standing by the notion that speech is speech, no matter how egregious.
Hopefully, Trump will live up to this position, saying no to pieces of legislation and other Washington-led efforts to restrict speech online. After all, the best thing you do to a terrorist or extremist cell is to censor its followers or sympathizers online.
When bad, negative, and flat-out dangerous speech is censored, the people sharing these ideas don’t disappear. Instead they become stronger, as they go underground along with their followers where it becomes impossible for good people to debate and refute them.