Investors turn up heat on social media content controls

Matt Whineray
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Some of the world’s largest and most influential investors are increasing the pressure on the world’s largest social media companies to do more to prevent “objectionable” content spreading across their platforms in the wake of the March 15, 2019, terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Following the attack, more than 100 global investors representing about US$7.5 trillion of assets joined a collaboration to encourage Facebook, Alphabet (Google and YouTube) and Twitter to strengthen controls over its content.

The killings were livestreamed and disseminated across various social media platforms, adding to the horrific nature of the attack. Last week a group of the investors has signed an open letter to the respective companies expressing dissatisfaction with their response to date and calling on them to do more to protect the public from similar events in the future.

Matt Whineray, NZ Super’s chief executive, said: “Just over a year ago 51 people were killed while they worshiped inside two mosques. It was a horrific and tragic event. We have made our voice known to these companies since the attack in Christchurch. While some positive changes have been made, more needs to be done at the executive and board level to build accountability and ensure these platforms cannot be used to spread objectionable material.”

NZ Super and several other public and private investors in NZ have led the initiative. It is supported by some of the world’s largest investors. The open letter, published on March 20, calls for:

  • “clear lines of governance and accountability for senior executives and Board members to ensure social media platforms cannot be used to promote objectionable content like the livestreaming and dissemination of the Christchurch shootings; and,
  • “sufficient resources being dedicated to combating the livestreaming and spread of objectionable material across the platforms.”

The investors say legislation that governs these companies needs to be to modernised to protect the public from exposure to similar content in the future. “The failure to properly respond creates a significant business risk, beyond the harm caused to individuals and the community. As investors in these companies we remain open to continued engagement and our expectation is they will take responsibility and fully address this issue.”

After the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack the NZ government-owned investors joined together to lead a global investment collaboration to engage with the world’s three leading social media companies: Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter. Their objective was to get the social media companies to strengthen controls to prevent the live streaming and distribution of objectionable content.

The collaboration supports the “Christchurch Call”, a joint initiative by the governments of New Zealand and France. The engagement also seeks to hold the companies accountable to the commitments made via The Call. As it stands the group consists of 102 financial institutions from around the world. Currently, the team leading the engagement is focused on gathering domestic and international support for the initiative and bringing other major investors on board, as well as planning the details of the engagement.

The industry participants in the campaign for action are:

Leaders Group (NZ Crown-owned investors):

NZ Super Fund (NZSF)
Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)
Government Superannuation Fund (GSF)
National Provident Fund (NPF)
Kiwi Wealth (KW)

Participants – New Zealand:

AMP Financial Services
ANZ New Zealand Investments
Fisher Funds
Foundation North
Generate Investment Management
Harbour Asset Management
H.R.L. Morrison & Co Limited
Investment Services Group (Devon Funds, JMI Wealth, Select Wealth and Clarity Funds)
IWI Investor
Milford Asset Management
Mint Asset Management
MyFiduciary Limited
Ngāti Awa Group Holdings Limited
NZ Funds
Pathfinder/Caresaver KiwiSaver
PIE Funds/JUNO KiwiSaver Scheme
Public Trust
Rata Foundation
Salt Funds Management
Tauhara North No2 Trust
Trust Investments Management Limited
Trust Waikato
Wellington Free Ambulance Service
Westpac / BT Funds Management

Participants – International:

Aberdeen Standard Investments
Adrian Dominican Sisters, Portfolio Advisory Board
AMP Capital (NZ and International)
AQR Capital Management
Australian Ethical
Aviva Investors
Axa Investment Managers
Bayerische Versorgungskammer
BMO Global Asset Management
Bon Secours Mercy Health
Brunel Pension Partnership
Cadmos Peace Investment Fund
Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec
Christian Brothers Investment Services
Church of England Pensions Board
Church Commissioners for England
Common Interests Financial
Congregation of St. Joseph
Coöperatie DELA
Daughters of Charity
De Pury Pictet Turrettini & Cie
Dignity Health
Domini Impact Investments
ECO Advisors
Ethical Partners Funds Management
EOS at Federated Hermes
First Sentier Investors
Greater Manchester Pension Fund
Hermes EOS
Hermes Investment Management
HSBC Global Asset Management
Investec Asset Management
Legal & General Investment Management
LGPS Central
LG Super
Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF)
Media Super
Mercer Global (including NZ)
Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
Merseyside Pension Fund
The National Employment Savings Trust (NEST)
NEI Investments
Neuberger Berman
Newton Investment Management
Nomura Asset Management
Northern Trust Asset Management
Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
Oregon State Treasury
Pantheon Ventures
River and Mercantile
U Ethical Investors
USS Investment Management
Utilities of Australia Pty Ltd
West Midlands Pension Fund
West Yorkshire Pension Fund

– G.B.

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