PARIS — The White House said on Wednesday that it would not sign an international accord intended to pressure the largest internet platforms to eradicate violent and extremist content, highlighting a broader divide between the United States and other countries about the role of government in determining what content is acceptable on the internet.
Citing free speech protections, the Trump administration said in a statement that “the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement.” It added that “the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech.”
The White House’s statement came on a day when President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand were gathered in Paris to sign what they call the “Christchurch Call.” The agreement was crafted in the wake of a terrorist attack that left 51 Muslim worshipers dead. The attack on multiple mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was live streamed on Facebook and spread virally across the internet.
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Ms. Ardern has used the killings to rally support for more vigilance to block violent and extremist content from the world’s largest internet platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Amazon have vowed to more aggressively monitor their services for material that encourages and facilitates violence.
The Christchurch Call is not binding and does not include any punishments for platforms that don’t comply. But as governments around the world consider new laws and regulations, the companies are under pressure to demonstrate they can police their platforms. On Tuesday night, ahead of the gathering in Paris, Facebook announced that it would place more restrictions on the use of its live video service.
Last week, France proposed new laws that would require companies to abolish harmful content. Britain last month put forward a similar proposal. And following the Christchurch massacre, Australia passed a law that makes company executives personally liable for the spread of violent material.
Yet the debate about regulating the internet is raising broader questions about what is acceptable and what constitutes free expression. While companies and governments have largely coalesced around addressing violent, terrorist-related and child exploitation content online, there is less consensus on issues such as what makes up hate speech and misinformation, and what are tolerable forms of political debate even if they are offensive and polarizing.