Christchurch Call reaffirms importance of tackling threats posed online by terrorism, violent extremism: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a joint press conference during Ms Ardern's official visit to Singapore on May 17, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Christchurch Call initiative reaffirms the importance of addressing threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism online, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It also commits countries and online service providers to work together to tackle them, he said at a joint press conference during New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's official visit to Singapore on Friday (May 17).

The day before in Paris, Ms Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched the Christchurch Call, to rally governments and firms to commit to steps to deal with hateful and extremist content posted online.

The initiative comes in the wake of the killings at two mosques in New Zealand on March 15, during which 51 people died. The rampage was broadcast live by the gunman on Facebook for 17 minutes, and while the video was taken down, clips were uploaded again repeatedly and also shared across different social media platforms.

Mr Lee thanked Ms Ardern for her "leadership in rallying an effective international response to this serious issue".

Singapore takes this problem very seriously, he said, adding that the Republic will work with New Zealand, other countries, and online service providers to tackle terrorism and violent extremism.

Asked if the Christchurch Call would also look at the issue of online falsehoods - which Singapore had recently passed a new law on - Ms Ardern said the initiative is "narrowly defined for good reason".

While a relatively small number of people viewed the live-streamed Christchurch attack, it was uploaded on Facebook 1.5 million times. On YouTube, it was uploaded at a rate of once per second in the first 24 hours, Ms Ardern noted.

"We felt a strong duty... to try and prevent that kind of situation ever happening again," she added.

"Our starting point has been to target violent extremism and terrorism online, and so the call is very focused on that. It talks about eliminating that content and also preventing that kind of content from proliferating," she said.

Mr Lee was also asked whether Singapore's fake news law - which was passed earlier this month - is consistent with the principles of free speech and an open and secure Internet.

Replying to the New Zealand Herald, Mr Lee said the new legislation covers a serious problem of people putting up something online which is untrue and can spread rapidly.

If not contradicted, rebutted or demolished, such falsehoods can cause a lot of harm within hours, if not minutes, and thus requires an immediate response.

"I don't see our legislation as being in any way restrictive of free speech," Mr Lee added.

Noting that no free speech is absolute, Mr Lee said the new law does not prevent people from saying things.

Rather, the law requires a correction to be put up with the fake news, so the public will know the facts.

If there is disagreement, parties can go to the court, which will decide whether the fact is true, or misleading, or needs to be corrected or taken down in the public interest, said Mr Lee.

The Prime Minister said the law is a "practical arrangement" to help Singapore tackle the problem of fake news.

"I'm under no illusions that it will solve our problem because it's a very difficult problem to deal with. And even if we can put out corrections, the truth runs not so fast as the falsehoods. But we have to do this and it is a step in the right direction," Mr Lee added.

During press conference, Mr Lee also expressed his deepest condolences to the bereaved friends and families of victims of the Christchurch attacks.

Ms Ardern said that the condolences from Singapore were "swift, warm and genuine and greatly appreciated", and expressed gratitude for the offer of support.

Mr Lee said: "Singapore strongly condemns this atrocity. We stand in solidarity with New Zealand in the fight against terrorism."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.