Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced funding for new research into how algorithms are affecting 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 affect big players like Facebook – the social media giant on which the March 15 gunman streamed his attack on mosques in Christchurch has – Google or TikTok.
Ardern, who made the announcement at the French Permanent Mission in New York following a Christchurch Call summit, said the program would bring great benefits. The USA is also a partner.
“We’re just not going to make the progress we need on these important issues without a better understanding of how they even work in the real world,” she said.
* Christchurch Call focuses on tech companies’ algorithms, six countries follow
* Jacinda Ardern and Emmanuel Macron co-chair the Christchurch Call Leaders Summit
* Jacinda Ardern’s ‘Christchurch Call’ has made strides, but is it worth much more than the paper it’s written on?
“Businesses, governments, civil society – we will all benefit from this initiative. It will help us create the free, open, and secure internet we all strive for.”
Ardern said Facebook and tech giant Meta were involved in Christchurch Call’s work. She said live streaming “has changed fundamentally” as a result of March 15.
“They were there today and they were part of the community from the beginning,” she said.
However, she said tech companies didn’t always understand how algorithms worked.
“Even if they’ve done their own research, they might be able to tell what the content creation endpoint is for a user, but not how they got there.”
As a result, it is difficult “to regulate something so difficult to understand”.
“It’s not an easy area to work in, which is why the Christchurch Call is designed the way it is,” she said.
Government regulation would be “too flawed and too slow,” she added.
The current project schedule calls for work to take place over a period of approximately nine months at a total cost of in the order of US$1.5 million (NZ$2.5 million).
It is hoped that the independent research can help shape policy.
Ardern, who is in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, said work on the Christchurch Call was “the heart” of her visit.
Stopping violent extremism online became a key issue following the March 15 terrorist attacks in which worshipers at two Christchurch mosques were shot dead while they were praying.
Artificial intelligence algorithms are playing an increasing role in people’s everyday lives, including how people organize information and experience the internet.
Much of the content that people encounter and watch online is curated by some form of algorithm and can lead people to extremism.
In the weeks after the 2019 terrorist attack, Ardern – along with Macron – chaired a Christchurch call-to-action summit of leaders where they made a series of voluntary commitments to bring governments, tech companies and civil society together to end terrorists and to eliminate violent criminals Extremist content on the Internet.
She spoke to the heads of Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter to make the pledges.