Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, earned a standing ovation Thursday for laying out progressive policies her country has taken, including banning military-style semiautomatic assault rifles in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings in 2019.
Speaking at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony, Ardern discussed the March 2019 mass shooting in her country, which killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.
“In the aftermath of New Zealand’s experience, we felt a sense of responsibility. We knew that we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did,” Ardern said.
The mention felt especially poignant, a few days after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two fourth-grade teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The Senate went on recess Thursday for two weeks without passing any gun control legislation, but a bipartisan group will be working to deliver a response to gun violence.
“Frankly, sometimes, it’s easier to work those issues outside of Washington rather than when we’re here,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said.
Ardern also noted the terrorist responsible for the Christchurch shooting had been radicalized online and had livestreamed his attacks on social media, pointing to the responsibility of those companies to work with governments to fight violent extremism.
“The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and to act on it,” Ardern said. “That means upholding their own basic terms of service. That means recognizing the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in.”
Ardern also called for developing more “responsible algorithms.”
“At best that means that the user experience is personalized, but at worst it means the user experience can be radicalized,” Ardern continued. “Let’s start with transparency in how algorithmic processes work and the outcomes they deliver. But let’s finish with a shared approach to responsible algorithms, because the time has come.”
Earlier this week, Ardern appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” where she spoke about how her country managed to enact change on guns. New Zealand brought in a six-month firearms buyback and amnesty program, allowing owners to hand in their guns and collecting over 56,000 of them.
“We saw something that wasn’t right and we acted on it,” Ardern told Stephen Colbert.