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Expert says stopping online hate is 'whack a mole', efforts must focus on real world first

An expert in preventing and addressing online terrorism and hate speech says trying to stop it is like a game of "whack a mole" and that efforts must primarily centre on the real world first.

During the March 15 terrorist attack in Christchurch, the alleged gunman live streamed the rampage online on platforms including Facebook, prompting calls for those platforms to do more to combat extremist content appearing online.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took the issue to a summit in Paris two months after the attack - The Christchurch Call.

The aim of the summit was to bring together countries and tech companies to make it impossible for online platforms to be used to promote terrorism and violent extremism.

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The Prime Minister spoke to world leaders today about developments to counter terrorism globally. Source: 1 NEWS

The signatories included 47 countries - but not the USA - and big tech companies including Amazon, Google, Twitter, Dailymotion, Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Qwant.

Speaking this morning to TVNZ 1's Breakfast programme, Tech Against Terrorism founder Adam Hadley said new sites can appear in a matter of hours, and extremist communities are well aware of that.

The larger platforms are adapting well using machine learning and data science, Mr Hadley said, which allows them to detect infringing content and either prevent it from appearing, or remove it quickly.

However, there and numerous other smaller, less complex ways to share information, and there will never be any way to stop those.

Tech Against Terrorism works with smaller platform providers to ensure that their terms of service, community guidelines and moderation procedures are robust and scalable.

He said he believes that the main focus needs to be on preventing the behaviour in the real world, because what happens on the internet is just a reflection of society.

"First and foremost we've got to focus on what drives this activity - we've got to understand what do terrorists and violent extremists want to achieve," Mr Hadley said.

"It's only through understanding that, that we can then approach ways of supporting the tech sector.

"Activity online is a reflection of problems in society and individuals and criminals who are violent or spreading hatred - that has to be the focus.

"Otherwise what we'll see is just activity going from one site to another, which is kind of what we're experiencing at the moment, its kind of whack a mole."


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Adam Hadley of Tech Against Terrorism explains why stopping online hate is so difficult. Source: Breakfast