The White House has declined to endorse a non-binding response condemning the spread of hate speech and terrorist radicalization on social media. The response, dubbed the “Christchurch Call”, was written in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand and livestreamed on Facebook. The White House’s reasoning for not endorsing the statement is bonkers, to say the least.
The Christchurch Call was spearheaded by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron to simply ask for “enhanced cooperation” in order to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.” The statement has been endorsed by 18 different governments, along with five large tech companies, but the U.S. says that it is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement” over First Amendment concerns, according to the Washington Post.
“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the White House said in a statement to the Washington Post today.
But then the official White House statement gets weirder.
“Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasise the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging,” the White House said.
Feel free to go back and read that again. Multiple times, if necessary.
There’s an old saying that the best way to fight bad speech is with more speech. And whether you agree with that principle or not, when it comes to terrorism, that idea has been at odds with the official U.S. government position since 1776.
The U.S. fights bad terrorist speech with bombs. Literal bombs. We drop explosives (and knives) from the sky to kill people who say things that call for violence against us or are otherwise at odds with American ideals. But that’s when the terrorists claim to be Muslim. As a reminder, the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto called President Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
Oddly enough, President Trump and the Republican Party more broadly has accused the Big Tech companies of bias against conservatives. Republican House Representative Devin Nunes even filed a lawsuit against Twitter and Twitter user back in March claiming that he’s being defamed on the platform. So it’s absurd to claim that you should fight bad speech with more speech in the environment of GOP martyrdom that has been invented by Trump and his allies.
And is the White House really going to say that they’re fervent defenders of the First Amendment? President Trump has regularly called for news outlets that he doesn’t like to be investigated. He’s even done the same for comedy shows that make fun of him. In fact, he’s called for the FEC and FCC to investigate Saturday Night Live multiple times. But don’t worry, when it comes to the non-existent censorship of conservative speech on private platforms, Trump is always “monitoring and watching closely.”
Tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all issued a joint statement of voluntary support for the Christchurch Call.
“The terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March were a horrifying tragedy. And so it is right that we come together, resolute in our commitment to ensure we are doing all we can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence,” the statement by the five tech companies said.
And companies like Facebook have issued new rules to stop the spread of hateful content on its platform, including the recent ban of white nationalists and dumping radical hate figures like InfoWars founder Alex Jones and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous.“
If you feel like you’re losing your fucking mind while reading statements from the White House these days, you’re not alone. But if you imagine that the White House’s statement was actually about ISIS terrorists instead of a white terrorist who said nice things about President Trump, everything comes into focus. It’s still scary to contemplate, but it all makes a lot more sense.
President Trump has pulled America out of the Iran Deal to ensure that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, the Paris Accord to hit voluntary emissions targets to fight climate change, and now he’s refused to make a largely symbolic gesture against extremist violence online.
The tragedy isn’t just that America has to keep putting up with President Trump and his endorsement of white nationalist hatred. It’s that he’s isolating the U.S. from the world on so many issues that should be easy slam dunks. And it’s only going to get worse from here on out.