Google subsidiary YouTube (Photo by Olly Curtis/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Google on the next phase of the Christchurch Call

Tech companies are stepping up their efforts around the Christchurch Call to action against online extremism. Ross Young, head of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google New Zealand, outlines what his organisation plans to do.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rallied the world after the atrocity of the Christchurch terror attack using compassion, ambition and determination to bring global leaders together behind the Christchurch Call. 

Over the past 50 years, we have seen how the tools of mass communication are leveraged for malicious purposes, including the sharing of this vile attack on the internet. At YouTube and Google, here in New Zealand and beyond, we are committed to confronting the spread of hatred and violence online. 

Over the past few years, we’ve been working to strengthen the way we prevent and respond to extremist content on YouTube. More recently we have tightened restrictions on live streaming. We updated our hate speech policies and bolstered how we enforce them, removing thousands of channels and hundreds of thousands of videos from our site. And we have moved to raise up authoritative content while reducing the spread of that which brushes up against our Community Guidelines. 

Our latest Community Guidelines Enforcement Report shows that these measures have made an impact. More than 87% of the nine million videos removed in the second quarter of 2019 were first flagged by our automated systems, and more than 80% of those auto-flagged videos were removed before they received a single view. 

However, we know that there’s more to do. At the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week in New York, we were pleased to join government leaders, led by Prime Minister Ardern, and our fellow technology companies to announce an important next step: the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) will change from being a group of member companies to become an independent organisation. 

Founded in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube – with Google as its first chair – the GIFCT was established with the objective of disrupting terrorist abuse on their respective platforms. Membership has grown and in 2019 we reached our goal of collectively contributing more than 200,000 hashes, or unique digital fingerprints, of known terrorist content into a shared database, enabling each tech company to quickly identify and take action on potential terrorist content. 

It was announced in New York that the GIFCT will now be led by an executive director and supported by dedicated technology, counterterrorism and operations teams. GIFCT has announced that its efforts will be organised into three key pillars of work: 

  1. “Prevent” aims to equip digital platforms and civil society groups with awareness, knowledge and tools, including technology, to develop sustainable programs to disrupt terrorist and violent extremist activity online. 

YouTube has long been committed to developing effective machine learning. But alongside the increased use of automated systems we also support counter-speech projects and programs to confront radicalisation, such as the Redirect Method

  1. “Respond” will develop tools and capacity, including via regular multi-stakeholder exercises, for platforms to cooperate with one another and with other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of a terrorist or violent extremist attack. 

In policies, resources and products, we’ve ramped up investment to respond quickly. More than 10,000 people across Google are working to address content that might violate our policies, and we work closely with law enforcement by sharing relevant information. 

  1. “Learn” will empower researchers to study terrorism and counterterrorism, including creating and evaluating best practices for multi-stakeholder cooperation and preventing abuse of digital platforms. 

We understand how important collaboration and cooperation is, and we continuously consult with experts and researchers in subjects like violent extremism, supremacism, civil rights, and free speech when we develop our policies. 

Along with these major changes to its structure, GIFCT has delivered the following: 

  • Content Incident Protocol: A protocol to enable better coordination and response to terrorist attacks like the one we saw in Christchurch and combat the spread of terrorist content across technology platforms. YouTube will host a workshop in Wellington later this year to test this new protocol with governments, tech companies, civil society and YouTube’s Trusted Flaggers. 
  • Counter Speech Toolkit: A cross-platform toolkit to counter violent extremism. This was developed with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, to help civil society organisations build online campaigns to challenge extremist ideologies. 
  • Help for smaller tech companies: Algorithms for our hashing technology were released to help more companies build their capacity to use and contribute to the hash sharing consortium. 
  • Transparency Report: The Forum’s first Transparency Report was published to ensure that civil society and governments can hold us to account. 

We know that the tools and platforms of mass communication have changed our world. They have made our communities larger while making our world smaller. This historic shift has advanced human understanding while breaking down arbitrary cultural barriers. 

The Christchurch Call is a reflection of the shared belief that a shrinking world must not be a more violent one, and that the digital platforms that mirror our lives are a reflection of safe and constructive communities.


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