Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Christchurch Call vs cybernaut sovereignty

  • 20 May 2019


John Perry Barlow, in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, saw a new frontier of freedom for cybernauts keen to be rid of the petty intrusions of states. 'Governments of the Industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.'

The Christchurch shootings, inflicting 51 deaths upon worshippers at two mosques in quiet New Zealand on 15 March this year, spurred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to take a more sceptical view about the so-called borderless medium that is the internet. Cybernauts are to be regarded with suspicion; content shared on the net, as a matter of regulatory interest.

In Paris, Ardern, along with French president Emmanuel Macron, leaders of several states and US tech giants, committed to a global pledge to 'eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online'.

The opening of the pledge sets the tone: 'On 15 March 2019, people looked on in horror as, for 17 minutes, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live streamed.' It is instructive: the atrocity is highlighted, but the means of its dissemination singled out. The live stream, it is noted 'was viewed some 4000 times before being removed'.

What, then, is the focus of what is billed the 'Christchurch Call'? Is it the shattered, disturbed worldview of the Christchurch shooter that warrants correction, or the technology he sought to use in extolling his exploits? The pledge places the blame squarely on the medium, avoiding any sense of ideological repair. 'The attack was live streamed, went viral and remains available on the web despite the measures taken to remove it.'

The pledge tries to juggle regulatory control of content with 'the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society. Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental.' But the focus here is unmistakable and open-ended: 'no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online'.

Vague commitments by governments and the tech giants, as outlined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office, include 'building more inclusive, resilient communities to counter violent radicalisation' and 'enforcing laws that stop the production and dissemination of terrorist and extremist content online'. The way events are reported by media outlets is also