The Current

'No technology is above the law': Microsoft's global president on tackling hate online

Microsoft global president Brad Smith wants technology companies and governments to work together to affect how technology is used, because he fears that the tools of the digital age could be turned into dangerous weapons.

Brad Smith says he wants tech companies, governments to stop the spread of extremism online

Microsoft's global president Brad Smith. (The Associated Press)

In the optimistic early days of the world wide web, it was hard to imagine some of the dark and dangerous ways the internet might be used today: online abuse, election disinformation campaigns, and, in the worst cases, live-streaming of attacks like the Christchurch massacre. 

Now Brad Smith, Microsoft's global president and chief legal officer, is calling for tech companies and governments to come together and create new systems to stop those abuses from happening.

"The Christchurch attack really illustrated the way [the internet] can be used in a manner that its inventors ... never imagined," Smith told The Current's Laura Lynch. "But it is a weapon that can be put to that use, and we have to respond to that."

That massacre, and the way it galvanized politicians and tech companies to collaborate on responses, is one of the topics that Smith and his co-author, Carol Ann Browne, tackle in their new book: Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

Smith and other Microsoft representatives, who were in New Zealand just a week after the Christchurch attack, met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and members of her cabinet and discussed what they could do to stop similar attacks in the future. That meeting helped give rise to The Christchurch Call, a voluntary commitment signed in May by 18 countries including Canada, as well as several major tech companies, to stop the spread of extremism online.

Signatory governments pledge, for example, to ensure their countries have effective laws to prevent the production and dissemination of terrorist content online, while tech companies commit to taking specific measures to stop extremist content from being uploaded or shared, like employing more humans to monitor and control live streaming. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined government and tech leaders in Paris for the Christchurch Call, a meeting aimed at curbing online extremism in the wake News Zealand's Christchurch massacre. 2:24

That's one example of what Smith calls a "third wave" of stronger regulations on the internet, that adapt to the realities of new and ever-changing technologies.

"The only way to give the public the ability to trust technology the way the public needs to and deserves to trust technology, is to ensure that no technology is above the law, to ensure that no company is above the law," he said.

Produced by Ines Colabrese.