Fight against terrorism: it’s a challenge we share [fr]

Fight against terrorism/cyber security/digital technology – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic - 72nd United Nations General Assembly - 20 September 2017

"We’ve already wasted a lot of time on this issue, because for too long some people believed it was up to governments alone to protect our fellow citizens", Mr. Emmanuel Macron, 20 September 2017.

Prime Minister, chère Theresa,

Prime Minister, cher Paolo,

Cher Ken Walker,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I can totally subscribe to what Theresa May has just said, and indeed – particularly following the attacks Britain has had to endure – the initiative taken in Taormina under the Italian G7 presidency, then the initiative taken in the Franco-British joint statement, subsequently extended to our European partners, signalled our collective determination to make progress towards the agenda of a bigger, more effective fight against terrorist propaganda online.

What are we talking about? As the Prime Minister has just said, it’s about our collective effectiveness in protecting our citizens. And it’s a challenge we share as governments and Internet operators. We must make no mistake: if, in today’s world, with contemporary communication technology, we’re no longer capable as governments of guaranteeing to protect our fellow citizens from what endangers them, from those who kill our children, then either we change our civilization or we’ll move towards much tougher rules.

And we’ve already wasted a lot of time on this issue, because for too long some people believed it was up to governments alone to protect our fellow citizens. And it does have to be said that the world of the Internet is a tremendous opportunity which revolutionizes our horizons, enables us to be more efficient and creates a new continent of opportunities, but unfortunately the worst things also occur there. And so the question is how, collectively, we shoulder our responsibilities to ensure that the worst things no longer occur there.

In this respect, today’s statement is a step. Is it a big enough one? No. Is it satisfactory? In a way, because it’s an improvement on the situation we were in. Does it call for other meetings and further progress? Decidedly yes, because if we can’t make progress in this way, we won’t be able to make it in other ways, under the pressure of events, and we won’t make it through legislation, so collectively we think it’s more intelligent to proceed as we are today.

The first effort, the first direction adopted by this statement is the approach we’ve been taking collectively for several weeks, namely the removal of content expressing support for terrorism and calling for violence. The speed of detection and removal of potentially terrorist or hate-filled content is making headway. As the Prime Minister has just recalled, every hour counts, every hour, because young or less young people have access to this propaganda and can switch, in an instant, to very vulnerable situations; we know this, it’s been documented.

Not all content is identified, and I don’t underestimate the difficulty of identifying actual terrorist content. The most brutal and violent scenes can be easily identified, but there’s more insidious language, and so we must work even more to identify it more effectively. Moreover, removed content may reappear, and some content isn’t even removed, given the difficulty of detecting it.

And faced with a modern army of terrorists who use an asymmetrical modus operandi, both states and companies must adapt their strategies. First of all, it seems to me that the major companies represented here have pledged, in the joint statement we’re going to publish, to increase the resources devoted to removing content. That’s a necessary commitment which I want to commend here. We need more investment in research, more human resources, more automation to achieve swift, definitive and complete removals.

It’s then necessary for the efforts agreed on by large companies to identify and remove illicit content to also benefit small companies, so that this content doesn’t reappear on less well-known social networks and take a parallel route. I also note that, through its Redirect project, one of the companies in the forum takes into account a specific risk, namely filter bubbles, i.e. the risk of individuals surfing the web being exposed only to content that reinforces their radicalization. That’s an absolutely essential approach; I think that the statement isn’t clear enough on this and that it’s essential for all operators to make progress in this direction.

So it must be continued, developed, in order to provide people who are being radicalized with content which, on the contrary, may raise doubts and questions in their minds. Collectively we must have a strategy tailored to our underlying goals, namely to restore common sense to those people who are being radicalized or who are vulnerable.

We must now set ourselves an initial, ambitious but in no way unattainable goal: to remove propaganda content less than an hour after it’s put online. It’s in this first hour that everything happens; in an hour the content must be identified, analysed and removed in order to limit the chances of mass redistribution. Our experience shows this is possible, and I very much hope the teams all three of us have, as well as all the team members represented here, can work with operators in a specific, concrete way, making lasting commitments.

On incitement to racial and religious hatred, we must also move forward more quickly; commitments have been made with companies at European level, as part of the code of conduct for combating illegal online hate speech. We’ve already said that if we don’t manage to achieve tangible results, it will be up to us to legislate and introduce more binding rules, because we have no choice, because that’s our responsibility to our fellow citizens, and because in my view it’s the responsibility of everyone sitting in this hall.

The second central objective of our efforts must concern civil society discourse, and that’s an issue in which the Prime Minister in particular has been involved from the outset, and I want to commend her leadership here. The anti-terrorist message mustn’t be sent only by states, and many other players are already sending it. For example, very many projects conducted by civil society have endeavoured to spread discourse on the Internet which condemns that of terrorist groups – a discourse based on facts, on our humanist values and on an enlightened reading of religion. And our role collectively is to help those independent voices to be heard, whether they be moral figures, religious leaders or young people talking to their fathers; we mustn’t interfere with the content or form of this alternative discourse, but on the other hand we can give it access to the maximum number of people. This counter-propaganda is absolutely essential, because some of the battles the jihadists win are fought over the imagination, over their ability to provide their own heroes and tell stories with which our young and less-young people identify.

So we’ve got to bring out this counter-propaganda, not with official discourse which governments have to put out, but discourse which, spread by operators, will make it possible to offer positive models and a positive environment consistent with our values. Important initiatives have been taken, but I urge the big companies represented here to develop their action further to support civil society actors in disseminating a credible, legitimate response to the propaganda of terrorist groups.
So I’d like us, dear friends, to continue, from today, doing concrete work to make further progress so that the essential commitments I was talking about, and which we once believed possible to achieve in the shorter term, can be translated into action as soon as possible, that additional commitments are made and that we can also draw up together public lists of operators which decide to commit to this policy, because we’ve now got to move towards a name-and-shame policy on the issue. We’ve got to reward operators which decide to play by the rules and, implicitly, denounce those which decide not to play by the rules, because in this battle against terrorist propaganda there aren’t three sides, only two. There are those people fighting for our values, freedom and the safety of our fellow citizens, and there are those who in fact decide to play into the terrorists’ hands. You’ve got to choose which side you’re on; ambiguity benefits only one side. Thank you.

Dernière modification : 26/09/2017

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