New Zealand’s Ardern Calls On Social Media Companies To Stem Terrorist Content

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is calling on governments and tech companies to do more to prevent live streaming of terror attacks and the spread of such videos online. Ardern is seen here laying a wreath at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland last month.

New Zealand Government via Getty

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New Zealand Government via Getty

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she was one of many who saw horrifying footage of the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch when the video of it started auto-playing in her social media feed. In the wake of the violence in which 51 people were killed, New Zealand immediately imposed new gun control measures and introduced legislation that would ban most semi-automatic firearms.

Now Ardern is turning her efforts toward another factor in the violence that day: the social media platforms on which the gunman live-streamed his attack.

She’s in Paris on Wednesday at a meeting of digital leaders of the Group of Seven nations, working with French president Emmanuel Macron to push an initiative deemed the “Christchurch Call.” The agreement asks governments and internet companies to do more to prevent the live broadcast of terrorist attacks, and make sure such content is removed quickly when it does appear.

On Tuesday night, Facebook announced that it would be taking steps to try to prevent such videos from reaching its platform, and work to find effective ways to take them down if they are posted. The company said that users who break certain rules – for instance, “someone who shares a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context” — will be blocked for a set period of time from broadcasting to Facebook Live.

It plans to extend other restrictions in the coming weeks, including preventing the same people from creating ads on Facebook.

The company says it will spend $7.5 million to partner with three universities to develop tools preventing modified versions of terror videos from being reposted. In the first 24 hours after the Christchurch attack, Facebook removed the shooter’s video 1.5 million times as people continuously uploaded it.

In a New York Times opinion column Saturday, Ardern wrote of the balance that must be struck: “Social media connects people. And so we must ensure that in our attempts to prevent harm that we do not compromise the integral pillar of society that is freedom of expression. But that right does not include the freedom to broadcast mass murder.”

Officials from the U.S., Canada and Britain are expected to be at the summit, as well as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and staff from Facebook, Amazon and Google, The Washington Post reports.

A number of nations are expected to sign the Christchurch Call, the Times reports, but the U.S. is not among them, with concerns about free speech.

“The pledge does not contain enforcement or regulatory measures. It will be up to each country and company to decide how to carry out the commitments, according to two senior New Zealand officials involved in the drafting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the exact wording of the pledge was still being finalized,” according to the Times. “Social media companies will be left with the thorny task of deciding what constitutes violent extremist content, since it is not defined in the accord.”

In an email to Reuters, Ardern called Facebook’s new limits on live streaming “a good first step to restrict the application being used as a tool for terrorists.”

“This call to action is not just about regulation, but instead about bringing companies to the table and saying, ‘You have a role too, and we have expectations of you,'” Ardern told CNN.

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Alabama Lawmakers Pass Bill Banning Nearly All Abortions

The Alabama Senate has passed an abortion ban that would be one of the most restrictive in the United States. The bill would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy unless a woman’s life is threatened or in case of of lethal fetal anomaly.

Dave Martin/AP

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Dave Martin/AP

The Alabama Senate passed a bill Tuesday evening to ban nearly all abortions. The state House had already overwhelmingly approved the legislation. It’s part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.

It would be one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the United States. The bill would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman’s life is threatened or in case of a lethal fetal anomaly.

The vote was 25-6, with one abstention.

Doctors in the state would face felony jail time up to 99 years if convicted. But a woman would not be held criminally liable for having an abortion.

Laura Stiller of Montgomery protests outside the Alabama State House as the Senate debates an abortion ban. Stiller calls the legislation political and an “affront to women’s rights.”

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

The only exceptions are for a serious health risk to the pregnant woman or a lethal anomaly of the fetus. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and that was a sticking point when the Alabama Senate first tried to debate the measure last Thursday. The Republican-majority chamber adjourned in dramatic fashion when leaders tried to strip a committee amendment that would have added an exception for cases of rape or incest.

Sponsors insist they want to limit exceptions because the bill is designed to push the idea that a fetus is a person with rights, in a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to abortion.

“Human life has rights, and when someone takes those rights, that’s when we as government have to step in,” said Republican Clyde Chambliss, the Senate sponsor of the abortion ban.

The amendment has divided Republicans. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who presides over the Senate, posted on Twitter that his position is simple — “Abortion is murder.” But other Senate leaders have insisted that there be exceptions for rape and incest.

‘Abortion is murder,’ those three simple words sum up my position on an issue that many falsely claim is a complex one. #PassHB314 #NoAmendments

— Will Ainsworth (@willainsworthAL) May 13, 2019

Democrats didn’t have the votes to stop the bill but tried to slow down proceedings during the debate.

Democratic Sen. Vivian Davis Figures questioned why supporters would not want victims of rape or incest to have an exception for a horrific act.

“To take that choice away from that person who had such a traumatic act committed against them, to be left with the residue of that person if you will, to have to bring that child into this world and be reminded of it every single day,” Figures said.

The ACLU of Alabama is on record saying it will sue if the bill becomes law. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not said whether she will sign it, and said she was waiting for a final version of the bill. She is considered a strong opponent of abortion.

Chipping away at abortion rights

In recent years, conservative states have passed laws that have chipped away at the right to abortion with stricter regulations, including time limits, waiting periods and medical requirements on doctors and clinics. This year state lawmakers are going even further now that there’s a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The strategy here is that we will win,” says Alabama Pro-Life Coalition President Eric Johnston, who helped craft the Alabama abortion ban.

“There are a lot of factors and the main one is two new judges that may give the ability to have Roe reviewed,” Johnston said. “And Justice Ginsburg — no one knows about her health.”

So states are pushing the envelope. Several, including Alabama’s neighbors Georgia and Mississippi, have passed laws that prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. But the drafters of the Alabama bill think by having no threshold other than if a woman is pregnant, their law might be the one ripe for Supreme Court review.

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