Ti Point man at anti-terrorist summit

Nat Torkington in Paris with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for the Christchurch Call summit.

Internet pioneer Nat Torkington, of Ti Point, was among the New Zealand contingent wrestling with the growing problem of terrorist use of social media at a meeting of world leaders in Paris last month.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hand-picked the team that accompanied her to the Christchurch Call to Action Summit in France, asking Mr Torkington to take on the role of technical advisor.

The summit was initiated by Ms Ardern following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March. It was co-chaired by Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Nat says what was extraordinary about the incident in Christchurch from an information technology point-of-view was that organised extremists were actively working to thwart Facebook’s content filters.

“People were intentionally modifying and distorting the video so that Facebook’s algorithms could not identify the footage” Nat says. “This was not just naive people sharing a video
they shouldn’t.”

Platforms such as Facebook have feature detection algorithms that will try to pick up elements, such as a gun or blood or screaming, and will flag the footage for review by a moderator.

Nat says as a result of Christchurch Call, new systems have been developed that prioritise moderation of videos flagged as terrorism. Meanwhile, users who have complaints made against them for streaming terrorist content will not be allowed to continue.

“I would also like to see a better emergency response mechanism for governments to warn these platforms when an incident like this occurs, so that the likes of Twitter or Facebook are not fully relying on their own systems to pick it up,” Nat says.

Meanwhile, as a result of the international meeting, the world’s major tech companies have pledged to invest in new technology and staff to prevent terrorist use of social media.

Facebook has promised US$7.5m towards video analysis technology that would detect first-person footage of acts of terrorism similar to what was uploaded by the gunman in Christchurch.

Nat says he does not feel New Zealanders quite appreciate just how amazing the summit was.

“It was a world-first led by New Zealand in which multiple governments and tech companies sat around a table and formed an unprecedented multilateral agreement – and it was put together in just six weeks,” he says.

There were leaders from France, Canada, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Norway, Senegal, the UK and the European Commission, as well as delegates from major companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Dailymotion, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter and YouTube.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see inside a diplomatic process like that. But the highlight was when the Prime Minister opened proceedings in Teo Reo in the Élysée Palace,” Nat says.

“And, as someone who helped build the early web, it was great to have a role in cleaning up its unintended consequences and uses.”

In his everyday career, Nathan manages teams of software developers and has been part of the industry since he developed New Zealand’s first website for Victoria University in the early 1990s.

He came to the notice of Prime Minister Ardern through his annual Kiwi Foo Camp conferences, which are held locally and attract about 150 of the nation’s top chief executives, academics and politicians.


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