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By Sam Schechner
PARIS -- Facebook Inc. said Wednesday it would bar people who post or share terrorist propaganda from broadcasting live video on its service, after the streaming feature was used to broadcast the assault in March on mosques in New Zealand.
The step is the company's most concrete response yet to pressure to restrict use of the feature following the attack in Christchurch that killed 51 people. But the change disappointed some who demanded stronger measures.
Facebook's new policy is part of a package of commitments from governments and tech companies, dubbed the "Christchurch Call," aimed at stemming the tide of extremist content on the internet
The three-page document, released Wednesday after its adoption by countries including France, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., Jordan and Indonesia, presents a series of general promises to develop policies and regulations to reduce the use of internet services for disseminating extremist content -- without undermining free expression online.
The White House on Wednesday said it agreed with the "overarching message of the call" but wasn't "currently in a position to join the endorsement." The U.S. has long resisted putting government limits on expression, and instead has encouraged tech companies to do more themselves.
In that vein, the document offers several commitments from online providers including Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google, owner of YouTube. Among them is to immediately implement measures to reduce the risk that anyone can use live-streaming to broadcast extremist content.
A Facebook spokeswoman said such a restriction would have prevented the alleged shooter in the mosque attacks in March from using his Facebook account to live stream the action.
Critics, however, said Facebook's new policy isn't sufficient to prevent bad actors from live streaming violence on its platform. The response highlights the difficulty governments and technology firms face in agreeing to concrete measures relating to even a relatively noncontroversial issue like blocking terrorist propaganda.
"The strong feeling in New Zealand is 'This is not good enough'," said Alistair Knott, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Otago. "Even if you've been bad and you're on some list, you can just get another Facebook account. It's the easiest thing in the world."
Mr. Knott said a requirement that Facebook users apply for a license to post live video would be more effective at screening out those interested in broadcasting violence.
The Christchurch Call commitments also address, albeit briefly, a broader criticism that some researchers have leveled against tech companies: that their products, which are designed to maximize the time spent using them by providing content tailored to their interests, have the effect of channeling users toward more polarizing content.
The online firms have also committed to "review the operation of algorithms that may drive users toward and/or amplify terrorist and violent extremist content." They said they would explore ways to redirect users from extremist content toward alternatives, dubbed counter-narratives -- something with which they have experimented
Facebook said ahead of Wednesday's publication of the Christchurch Call that it would impose a "one-strike" rule for its streaming feature. People who have violated certain Facebook rules, including its restrictions on posting terrorist content without context, would be prevented from using the company's live-video streaming feature to broadcast to anyone else on Facebook for a limited time, for instance 30 days.
"Following the horrific terrorist attacks in New Zealand, we've been reviewing what more we can do to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate," Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president for integrity, said in a blog post.
Facebook's move follows that of YouTube to restrict its live-streaming feature to users who have more than 1,000 users. Live video has been a focus of concern because of several recent incidents in which disturbing or extremist content was broadcast live. Tech companies say it is more difficult for them to detect what is going on in live streams, as opposed to still images or previously recorded video.
The practices of tech companies are under growing pressure on a number of fronts. The European Union, which has one of the world's most comprehensive privacy laws, recently passed a copyright directive that imposes new restrictions and obligations on big internet companies. After several investigations into whether tech giants are violating competition rules, some politicians are calling for them to be broken up. And a number of countries -- most recently France -- have proposed tough new rules for how social-media firms police hate speech and cyberbullying on their platforms.
Curbing terrorist content -- including propaganda, recruitment videos and material depicting attacks -- has been less controversial because it is easier to draw a line around what should be removed. Facebook and Google both have automated tools to detect Islamic State content, for instance. Nevertheless, within the EU, the G-7 and other international venues, tech companies have come under pressure to do more to speed up removal of such content,
The Christchurch Call is a joint venture of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern following the mosque attacks in her country and French President Emmanuel Macron, who added it to a broader summit with tech executives he is hosting on Wednesday. Organizers have met with experts on multiple continents to figure out how to limit the spread of terror content after Facebook left footage of the Christchurch attack online for nearly an hour
-- Jon Emont in Hong Kong contributed to this article
Write to Sam Schechner at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 15, 2019 13:53 ET (17:53 GMT)
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