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New Zealand

UN head on hate speech: 'We need common action'

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 13/05/2019
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United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is pushing for cooperation from leaders worldwide on how to make the internet a force for good, he says.

Mr Guterres, who is on a three-day trip to New Zealand, yesterday issued a challenge to the youth of New Zealand to defeat climate change and ensure technology is used as a force only for good in a keynote speech to students.

Speaking to First Up, Mr Guterres said that in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks there was a growing consciousness that social media platforms and their leaders needed to act.

The terror attack in the city on 15 March, which left 51 people dead and many more injured or traumatised, was livestreamed on Facebook.

It took the social media company 29 minutes to detect the livestreamed video of the massacre. About 1.3 million copies of the video were blocked from Facebook, but 300,000 copies were published and shared

"There's been a very important dialogue with the most important platforms and the companies ruling them," Mr Guterres said, when asked how the UN would hold social media platforms like Facebook to account in how they regulate hate speech and extremist views.

"We've just launched a high-level panel on digital cooperation. I think there is a chance for them to understand that we need mechanisms that guarantee that hate speech really does not go through them," he told First Up

First Up's Indira Stewart hosted UN Secretary General António Guterres' hour-long Q&A session with students at Auckland University of Technology in Manukau. Among them, Bella Ashby - a student from Western Springs College's Ngā Puna o Waiōrea, who asked about the UN's work to equip Pacific nations to deal with climate change. Listen to his response here. 

"We have launched, also, another initiative to mobilise the whole UN system against hate speech and I believe that with good cooperation with the governments, companies and the civil societies we will be able to put a stop to this horrible use of hate speech that is today a dramatic factor in the promotion of terrorism in different parts of the world."

Mr Guterres admitted that what he called the UN's "old-style" method of international conventions would not be enough to change the way hate speech and extremist views are spread online. 

"We now need more flexible, more permanent mechanisms in which codes of conduct, forms of soft law, protocols, ethics standards are adopted with a multi-stakeholder approach - governments, companies, researchers, platforms, the civil society - in order to be able to affect and control these horrible spreading [of extremist views] that we are witnessing."

Mr Guterres was also not concerned that big online platforms would not comply with the more permanent mechanisms leaders are seeking to implement.

"It's also for the protection of their own brand, for the protection of their own business, they need to understand that. They need to comply with the kind of rules that are absolutely essential to make sure that in full respect for the freedom of expression we also guarantee the human rights of everybody and the human rights of communities that are being targeted by these terrible forms of violence that hate speech is spreading."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will land in Paris tonight New Zealand time where she is set to host the "Christchurch Call" summit alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. 

The meeting - the first of its kind - will be held on Wednesday with world leaders and technology companies in an attempt to stop social media being used to promote and organise terrorism.

"I think there is a growing pressure over countries all over the world to understand that we need common action," Mr Guterres said.

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