New Zealand internet providers send open letter to social media providers

5:02 pm on 19 March 2019

More needs to be done to prevent horrific content from being uploaded, New Zealand internet providers have said in an open letter to the chief executives of social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google.

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Photo: 123RF

Three of New Zealand's largest broadband providers, Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees, took the unprecedented step of jointly identifying and suspending access to websites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman related to the terrorism attacks in Christchurch on Friday.

The letter apologised to customers for any legitimate content that was blocked as a result of this saying it raised questions of censorship and required an urgent and broader discussion.

"Internet service providers are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, with blunt tools involving the blocking of sites after the fact. The greatest challenge is how to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media platforms and forums," the letter said.

The three internet providers said it is essential to find the right balance between internet freedom and the need to protect New Zealanders, particularly the young and vulnerable.

"We call on Facebook, Twitter and Google, whose platforms carry so much content, to be a part of an urgent discussion at an industry and New Zealand Government level on an enduring solution to this issue," the letter said.

It said content sharing platforms have a responsibility "to proactively monitor for harmful content, act expeditiously to remove content which is flagged to them as illegal and ensure that such material - once identified - cannot be re-uploaded."

The letter said society had the right to expect social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms, although it acknowledged that they sought to remove the video once they were aware of it.

"Technology can be a powerful force for good. The very same platforms that were used to share the video were also used to mobilise outpourings of support. But more needs to be done to prevent horrific content being uploaded.

"For the most serious types of content, such as terrorist content, more onerous requirements should apply, such as proposed in Europe, including take down within a specified period, proactive measures and fines for failure to do so. Consumers have the right to be protected whether using services funded by money or data," the letter stated.

The letter ended calling on Facebook, Twitter and Google to join the conversation on these issues and to be part of the solution.

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