Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced funding for new research into how algorithms affect people’s online experiences, the first project under the Christchurch Call.
But the new scheme, announced alongside French president Emmanuel Macron and with Twitter and Microsoft, does not involve major players such as Facebook – the social media giant on which the March 15 shooter streamed his attack – Google or TikTok.
Ardern, who made the announcement at the French Permanent Mission in New York following a summit on the Christchurch Call, said the scheme would bring wide benefits. The USA is also a partner.
“We simply won’t make the progress we need on these important issues without better understanding how they are operating in the real world in the first place,” she said.
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“Companies, governments, civil society – we will all benefit from this initiative. It will help us create the free, open and secure internet we are all driving for.”
Ardern said Facebook and technology conglomerate Meta are involved in Christchurch Call work. She said livestreaming had “fundamentally changed” as a result of March 15.
“They were present today, and they’ve been part of the community from the beginning,” she said.
However, she said technology companies didn’t always understand how algorithms worked.
“Even when they have undertaken their own research, they might be able to tell what the end point in content creation for a user, but not how they got there.”
As a result it was difficult to “regulate something so poorly understood”.
“It’s not a straightforward area of work, which is why the Christchurch call is designed the way it is,” she said.
Government regulation would “be caught wanting and be too slow”, she added.
The current project plan envisages work taking place over an approximate nine-month timeframe with a total cost in the region of US$1.5 million ($2.5m).
It is hoped the independent research can help shape policy.
Ardern, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week, said work on the Christchurch Call was the “centrepiece” of her visit.
Stopping violent extremism online became a signature issue in the wake of the March 15 terror attacks where worshippers at two Christchurch mosques were shot during their prayers.
Artificial intelligence algorithms play a growing role in people’s everyday lives, including how people organise information, and experience the internet.
A majority of the content people encounter and view online is curated by algorithms in some form, and it can lead people into extremism.
In the weeks after the 2019 terror attack, Ardern – with Macron – led a Christchurch Call to Action summit of leaders, when they set a series of voluntary commitments to bring governments, tech companies and civil society together with the goal of eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online.
She spoke with the heads of Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter to come up with the pledges.