The big three missing from Christchurch Call announcement

Meta, Google and TikTok have combined annual revenues of $400 billion but were missing from the list of social media companies that agreed to support a $1.5 million research project on algorithms, Anna writes Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

What is a social media algorithm?

Deciding to write a 500-word lead about social media algorithms and yesterday’s announcement of a new Christchurch Call initiative may not be my wisest decision. It’s a very big topic. But sometimes these things get reported and it’s assumed that everyone will nod knowingly and say “Yeah, the social media algorithms” and “$1.5 million to study them to end extremism online? Words like “platforms” and “algorithms” are a bit obscure. To start, here’s an excellent and timely explanation from NPR about social media algorithms, why they exist, how they affect what you see online, and how they lead people to outrage and radicalization or not.

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Yesterday’s announcement is in response to questions about the effectiveness of the call

The announcement consisted of a $1.5 million pledge for research into social media algorithms in collaboration with the company Openmined. If you are a techie, here is their website. RNZ has the simplest overview of what the research actually entails. The Christchurch Call was launched in response to the Christchurch Mosque shooting and aims to end online extremism. RNZ’s Colin Peacock had a very good summary of where we were in May. “Nobody really talks about the algorithms used by these social media companies,” said Imran Shakib of the Islamic Council of New Zealand at the time.

Largest and fastest growing platform missing from the list of contributors

Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp), Google (YouTube owner) and ByteDance (TikTok) were notable for their absence from the list of companies collaborating on the research. The Prime Minister brushed aside criticism of it, saying: “Once we are able to build this platform, it could be used on multiple platforms.” That could be the case, but it was not clear whether the work would require permission from non-participating social media platforms or why the company that owns TikTok is not participating. TikTok is currently the fastest growing platform in the world. It is also plagued by the same problems as every other corner of the internet – hate speech, extremist content and misinformation. Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick wrote an amazing article yesterday about TikTok’s dominance, describing its algorithm as the most aggressive we’ve seen.

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Internet NZ says our laws and processes are inadequate

The companies that don’t cooperate have combined annual sales of $400 billion, twice our GDP. The New Zealand arms of Meta and Google returned $284 million to their (paywalled) parent companies this year. Regulating these companies (no mean feat given how things are in the US right now) is a can that keeps coming up. Internet NZ’s Andrew Cushing, a member of the Christchurch Call advisory group, said yesterday “our laws and processes are not appropriate to the online world we live in and some communities experience hatred, hurt and threats of violence”. Meanwhile, these communities are still awaiting the establishment of a new national intelligence and security agency, three years after the horrific events that prompted the Christchurch call in the first place.

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