G7 to sign charter on tech regulation

French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire (C) and French Junior Minister for Digital affairs Cedric O (C-L), pose for a family picture with participants of a 'Tech for Humanity' meeting of G7 Digital Ministers on May 15, 2019, at the Economy Ministry in Paris, in parallel to the 'Tech for Good' summit which will bring together 80 tech chiefs in Paris to find a way for new technologies to work for the common good. (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

Digital ministers of the Group of 7 nations at their meeting in Paris on 15 May discussed an upcoming charter on toxic content and tech regulation in general that  G7 leaders are expected to sign at their annual meeting in Biarritz, France in August.

On the sidelines of the talk, and in response to a call by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, all of the major technology companies as well as sixteen countries and the European Commission signed a non-binding pledge called the Christchurch Call, to work towards eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Among the companies signing on the pledge were representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Mozilla, Google, Qwant, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Web Foundation.

Named after the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people, the agreement encourages tech platforms to increase their efforts when it comes to blocking toxic content. Though it does not contain any specific recommendations, companies that sign the pledge agree to improve their moderation process and share more information about the work they are doing to prevent terrorist content from going viral. On the other side, governments agree to work on laws that ban toxic content from social networks.

The Christchurch Call is separate from the charter that digital ministers are meeting to discuss in Paris. The French government views the Christchurch Call as a way to start a discussion with tech platforms and put the spotlight on a particular issue. But the scope of the charter is expected to be broader than the Christchurch Call and mention other issues.

While the charter will not define hateful speech too precisely, the negotiations should lead to a set of principles that each country can turn into laws. In particular, officials want to encourage transparency when it comes to moderation processes through audits, as well as increased cooperation between tech companies, governments and civil society.

“This industry needs to reach maturity and, in order to do that, we need to rethink the accountability of those companies and the role of governments,” France Digital Minister Cédric O said ahead of the meeting.

And yet, it is going to be hard to sign a common agreement between such a diverse group of countries. “There are Nordic countries that are very concerned about free speech and there are Latin countries that are pushing for more regulation,” Cédric O said.

In addition to digital ministers and government officials from the Group of 7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) officials from other countries attending the discussion Australia, India and New Zealand . With the exception of the United States all countries attending the talks in Paris signed on to the Christchurch Call.

“We won’t compromise too much — either all countries can agree on a strong stance, or some countries don’t sign the charter,” said a French source close to the talks.