Three major mobile and broadband phone companies are calling on global social media providers Facebook, Twitter and Google to join “an urgent discussion” on finding an enduring solution to eliminate harmful content such as the video footage taken by the gunman who killed 50 people in Christchurch on Friday.

“Although we recognise the speed with which social network companies sought to remove Friday’s video once they were made aware of it, this was still a response to material that was rapidly spreading globally and should never have been made available online,” says a letter to the three US-based companies which is signed by Spark managing director Simon Moutter, Vodafone NZ chief executive Jason Paris and 2degrees chief executive Steward Sherriff.

“We believe society has the right to expect companies such as yours to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms,” the letter says.

“Content sharing platforms have a duty of care 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 three phone companies say they took “unprecedented stops to jointly identify and suspend access to websites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman.”

Other New Zealand broadband providers have also taken steps to restrict availability of that 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 letter says.

But ISPs 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,” it says.

“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.”

Facebook also owns Instagram and Google owns YouTube.

The three CEOs say they recognise this issue is global but “the discussion must start somewhere. We must find the right balance between internet freedom and the need to protect New Zealanders, especially the young and vulnerable, from harmful content.”

Social media companies and hosting platforms “have a legal duty of care to protect their users and wider society by preventing the uploading and sharing of content such as this video.”

For the most serious types of content, such as terrorist content, more onerous requirements should apply than do to copyright infringements and identifying such content must be prioritised, the CEOs say.

They suggest following European proposals which include taking down material 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. 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.”

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