New Zealand attack prompts Microsoft to call for united action from tech companies

Microsoft Logo at Ignite
Microsoft Logo at Ignite (Image credit: Windows Central)

In the wake of the mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month, Microsoft President Brad Smith has penned a blog post (opens in new tab) calling on tech companies to form a united front in moderating content stemming from similar tragedies.

"Ultimately, we need to develop an industrywide approach that will be principled, comprehensive and effective," Smith said. "The best way to pursue this is to take new and concrete steps quickly in ways that build upon what already exists."

Ultimately, Smith says tech companies should work together in three major areas: prevention, effective responses in moments of crisis, and fostering a healthier online environment.

Smith suggests tech companies can unite in creating tools to "stop perpetrators from posting and sharing acts of violence against innocent people." Beyond tools used to identify violent content shared across social media, Smith also suggests browser-based solutions akin to "safe search," that would automatically block access to said content. This is a particularly important step following the Christchurch attack, as video from the attack was posted more than 1.5 million times on Facebook alone.

Further, Smith proposes a "joint virtual command center" from which tech companies can work together during a major incident to respond more effectively to crises. That's in addition to working together to create a healthier online environment. "There are too many days when online commentary brings out the worst in people," Smith says. "While there's obviously a big leap from hateful speech to an armed attack, it doesn't help when online interaction normalizes in cyberspace standards of behavior that almost all of us would consider unacceptable in the real world."

As Smith notes, there's precedent for such cooperation within the tech sector. Two years ago, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft created a group committed to countering terrorism. From Smith:

Among other things, the group's members have created a shared hash database of terrorist content and developed photo and video matching and text-based machine learning techniques to identify and thwart the spread of violence on their platforms. These technologies were used more than a million times in 24 hours to stop the distribution of the video from Christchurch.

While competition between the tech giants is "indispensable to a vibrant technology sector," Smith argues, there is a need for cooperation when certain circumstances present themselves.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • I don't share any of this stuff on Social Media I don't believe in it, this needs to stop.
    I'm tired of friends sending me stuff in Messenger and asking me to share, Sorry no thanks.
  • No what he is saying is the more your promote it (share it, talk about it, etc) the higher the chance another attack is going to happen for the fame
  • An Internet Safe Space, what a novel idea!
  • This is so much more productive than NZ's reaction. Focus on creating civil environments, mental health, rooting out radicalization and suicide prevention.
    I don't understand the action of disarming your innocent citizens when a terrorist attacks.
  • citizens of New Zealand have no right to defend themselves with fire arms
  • Innocent civilians aren't trained to deal with this kind of thing, and never will be. Gun owners don't magically tend to be skillful or trustworthy, and they never will. Because of that, more guns means more gun deaths, not less. Accidents are far more common than mass shootings (this is certainly true outside the US, the only rich country where mass shootings are common). And why the hell should the public trust random idiots with guns to defend us?
  • Will Gilliland you are a fool. We have quickly removed the ability to have assault rifles or semi automatic guns. We've always had severe restrictions in handguns. Guns for hunting and pest control still allowed.
    Up until March 15th our rate of homicide by gun was 1/50th of the United States. One fiftieth. The White supremecist terrorist had access to weaponry that could shoot multiple rounds in quick succession. Your presumed argument of 'a good guy with a gun will prevent this' has been shown to be BS time and time again. Say a few fools, like yourself, contue to believe it. Keep sucking on that koolaid. Action works, not lies. Not thoughts and prayers. Fortunately we have politicians who can do this, who are not in the pocket of the NRA and fearful of being primaried in an effed up gerrymandered system.
  • I think the long and short of it is that you just can't trust Aussies, bunch of convicts.