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Telco CEOs pen open letter criticising social media giants

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 19 March 2019, 11:06p.m.
Spark CEO Simon Moutter is one of the co-signers on the letter. (Photo / NZ Herald)

The CEOs of the nation's telcos have penned an open letter to the major social media providers.

They suggest following European proposals which include taking down material within a specified period, proactive measures and fines of up to $80m for failure to do so.

"Consumers have the right to be protected, whether using services funded by money or data. Now is the time for this conversation to be had and we call on all of you to join us at the table and be part of the solution," they write.

This comes after reports this week on major Kiwi corporations have pulled advertising from the platforms.

"You may be aware that on the afternoon of Friday 15 March, three of New Zealand's largest broadband providers, Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees, took the unprecedented step to jointly identify and suspend access to web sites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman related to the horrific terrorism incident in Christchurch," Spark's Simon Moutter, Vodafone's Jason Paris and 2degrees' Stewart Sherriff said.

"As key industry players, we believed this extraordinary step was the right thing to do in such extreme and tragic circumstances. Other New Zealand broadband providers have also taken steps to restrict availability of this content, although they may be taking a different approach technically."

"We also accept it is impossible as internet service providers to prevent completely access to this material. But hopefully we have made it more difficult for this content to be viewed and shared - reducing the risk our customers may inadvertently be exposed to it and limiting the publicity the gunman was clearly seeking", the trio said.

"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.

"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."

Speaking about the letter, Moutter told Larry Williams that they have banded together to write this letter in order to take action.

"Our chidlren are seeing these images if we don't intervene, and a lot of vulnerable people in society who cannot cope."

Moutter says that they have done all that they can, but they can only block websites temporarily from their serves.

"We're the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. These are the guys who have got the technology and could do something about it." 

He says that the companies have the processes to limit the spread after the fact, but their platforms all this content to grow in the first place. They want the websites to manage this content from the upload end first. 

Moutter thinks that as they have the algorithms to target us with individual messages and personalised ads, they can apply them to content like this.

He wants Governments to be the ones driving this as well. 

"Standards should be set, and I think it's clear that we saw the content that came out of Christchurch crossed the lines."

He says his staff have been deeply affected by having to trawl through the content that was generated on Friday. 

The telcos aren't the only organisations calling for action from the big tech players.

The big banks have also taken the step of suspending their advertising from the channels.

This includes ASB, TSB, Westpac, BNZ, ANZ and Kiwibank.

A TSB spokesperson today told the Herald that it could not continue to support these channels under the current circumstances.

"TSB is disappointed in the role social media played in Friday's tragedy and thinks it's inappropriate to continue to support this channel," the spokeswoman said.

On a Government level, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also addressed the way in which the platforms allowed for the footage to be spread across the internet.

"It's our view that it cannot, should not, be distributed, available, able to be viewed. It is horrendous," Ardern told reporters this week.

"While they've given us those assurances, ultimately the responsibility does sit with them.
"I want them, very much, to focus on making sure that [the video] is unable to be distributed."

With major corporations, businesses and the public all calling for change, this is the most widespread criticism that Facebook has faced in the local market so far.

While earlier scandals such as Cambridge Analytica did raise concerns, it did not provoke such a unified call for change across the country.


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