Microsoft Boss Suggests Joint Big-Tech Center After New Zealand Attacks Go Viral

The "March for Love" following last week's mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 23.

The "March for Love" following last week's mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 23. Mark Baker/AP

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The company’s president Brad Smith suggests establishing a virtual coordination center where major tech companies can work together during incidents.

In the wake of the tragic mass murders in Christchurch, New Zealand, tech companies and lawmakers are wrestling with how to manage mass communication and the travails of the connected digital world.

Just before beginning his rampage on March 15, the shooter began streaming live video of the attacks. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube rushed to take the content down but new versions immediately popped up to fill the void. The incident showcased the full virality of the internet and the limits of big technology companies for policing their own platforms.

“Across the tech sector, we need to do more,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Sunday. “Especially for those of us who operate social networks or digital communications tools or platforms that were used to amplify the violence, it’s clear that we need to learn from and take new action based on what happened in Christchurch.”

Smith offers a range of suggestions, including building better tech to combat these issues and generally cultivating a “healthier online environment.” But he also suggests a more immediate, tangible option: establishing a joint response center where big tech companies can come together during major incidents.

“The tech sector should consider creating a ‘major event’ protocol, in which technology companies would work from a joint virtual command center during a major incident,” he wrote.

A center would enable the various platform providers to compare notes on the source and nature of content being uploaded during such events, “while simultaneously ensuring that we avoid restricting communications that are in the public interest, such as reporting from news organizations,” Smith wrote.

He also suggested creating a framework for “confirmed events” with set protocols in place that can be triggered immediately.

Lawmakers are also interested in hearing from big tech companies on this issue. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., announced a closed-door hearing with the House Committee on Homeland Security set for Wednesday, to which he has invited Microsoft, as well as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.