Action Station report on hate speech, versus free speech

It is actually working a lot, but often not how people want it to work. Can we do much about it? or do we just have to go with how things evolve, both good and bad?

Action Station has just released  The People’s Report on Online Hate, Harassment and Abuse.

It is not ‘the people’, it is ‘some people’ who have done the report. Good on them, but they should not claim to speak for ‘the people’.

For decades, the internet has been hailed as a groundbreaking interactive marketplace of ideas, where anyone with access to data and a device can set up a stall.

Online tools have made it possible to communicate easily with friends and whānau around the world, sell and purchase goods and services, enrol to vote, raise billions for charitable causes or start-up businesses, and even hail a ride or meal to your front door.

The internet has helped give people who have historically been locked out of democracy by discrimination or poverty a way to voice the needs of their communities and organise at scale.

Over the past four years, ActionStation members have used digital tools and platforms to connect and collaborate with hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders who share their vision and values to engage powerfully in our democracy.

In the 21st century, social media has become the new public square.

The downside to this unparalleled information exchange and connectedness is that the internet also provides a powerful and relatively cheap way for groups and individuals to spread hate, fear, abuse and mis/dis/mal-information across time and space, and without transparency.

The term ‘fake news’ has been widely used to refer to a range of different kinds of false and harmful information.

While ActionStation has been at the forefront of exploring and facilitating digitally-enhanced democratic participation in New Zealand, we have also been exposed to these downsides.

It is that exposure that has prompted this report.

In 2015, the National-led government passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA). It states that a digital communication should not:

“…denigrate a person’s colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.”

In 2019 we ask: has the Act worked? Is the internet free from prejudice and harm? Do people feel safe to participate freely in conversations online? Or is there more work to do?

They say their findings show:

Why is it worse for people from some groups?

The Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) is a powerful piece of legislation that was enacted to address the issue of online abuse. However it is not sufficient to address every issue of online hate, harassment and abuse.

The law (while broad) is designed for only a limited number of situations where online harm occurs. Specifically, it appears to work well in many cases of one-to-one abuse, where an individual who is being abused can contact Netsafe and identify the abuser.

There have however been instances, some high profile, where seemingly clear cut cases of abuse and harassment are deemed to not breach the act,such as when a Facebook user commented that writer Lizzie Marvelly should try “bungy jumping without the cord”.

The tools of the HDCA appear unsatisfactory in other cases of serious abuse online, such as when an organised group (often using ‘shill’ accounts and fake identities) are targeting an individual. There are also cases where hate is being directed at a group of people, but not necessarily targeted at an individual who can lay a complaint, where there is still a considerable harmful ‘bystander’ effect.

In New Zealand, the Human Rights Act currently includes provisions that cover both civil and criminal liability for the incitement of racial disharmony. However, the threshold is extremely high and there is a profound scarcity of successful racial disharmony claims to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Racial disharmony provisions only apply to instances where hostility is stirred up amongst people other than those who are the subject of the hate. The expression of hatred in and of itself (or the effect of that hatred on the person or group it is directed towards) is not sufficient for the law to apply. The hate speech provisions in the Human Rights Act also apply only to colour, race, or ethnic or national origins and not religion. ‘Hate speech’ against religion, or even religious people, is not unlawful.

Any laws against hate speech and harassment should be generic and protect anyone who is targeted.

One of the most significant themes to emerge in this research was the need to attend not just to individualised concerns (e.g. individual rights and privacy) but also to collective dynamics and wellbeing. Therefore any policies that are developed to protect people online and ensure their ability to participate freely and safely online need to have at their centre indigenous and collectivist thinking, especially as Māori have historically (and presently) been among those who are most targeted by hateful speech.

Māori digital rights advocate Karaitiana Taiuru says that two Māori values in particular could help support those who build the technology that permeates so much of our lives to build tools for a safer, better internet. Manaakitanga (How can we build tools that encourage users to show each other care and compassion and work to uplift each other?) and Kaitiakitanga (How can we build tools where all users become the guardians of the experience and data in a highly trusted, inclusive, and protected way?).

I’m not sure why ‘indigenous thinking and values’ in particular should provide the solutions. That’s ironic given their support of diversity. Surely all thinking and values should be considered.

After that their report stops. But back to the start they have some action – Sign the Petition – but as of now the link to that doesn’t work, but another link gets to it:

The time has come for urgent action to address the significant threats online hate, harassment and abuse is causing to New Zealanders.

We are asking Justice Minister Andrew Little to implement our recommendations and work with the online platforms to ensure our online spaces  are safe for everyone.

If the internet is the new public square, it is imperative that lawmakers ensure the ability of all New Zealanders to access reliable and credible information about issues of public importance, and the ability of everyone in this country to participate safely in public conversations about those issues.

Add your name to the petition to show your support and help us fight for change.

Proposed solutions:

If the internet is the new public square, it is imperative that lawmakers ensure the ability of all New Zealanders to access reliable and credible information about issues of public importance, and the ability of everyone in this country to participate safely in public conversations about those issues.

Based on our analysis, we are making four recommendations to the New Zealand government:

Remove: Ensure platforms are active in removing harmful content quickly. An investigation into the most effective method to do this would be required, but the responsibility should be placed on the platform, not the users.

Reduce: Limit the reach of harmful content. Neither the platforms nor the users who create hateful and harmful content should benefit from algorithms that promote divisive and polarising messages.

Review: The New Zealand government needs to review our hate speech laws, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Harassment Act and the Human Rights Act to ensure they are fit for purpose in protecting people online in the 21st century.

Recalibrate: One of the most significant themes to emerge in this research was the need to attend not just to individualised concerns (eg individual rights and privacy) but also to collective dynamics and wellbeing. Any policies that are developed to protect people online need to have indigenous and collectivist thinking at their centre. They should also ensure that all internet safety / hate speech agencies funded by the Crown reflect the increasing diversity of our country.

They won’t solve all of the problems with the internet, or even all the ones described in our report. But it would be a start.

More is explained at The Spinoff:  The internet is the new public square. And it’s flowing with raw sewage by Leroy Beckett, the Open Democracy campaigner at ActionStation

Speech and behaviour online are issues that certainly need to be considered, but far more widely than by Action Station.

Free speech is a fundamental part of an open democratic society. Protections which limit free speech need to be carefully considered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

17 Comments

  1. Finbaar Rustle

     /  18th February 2019

    “Online hate is common and widespread, but it’s worse for
    people of colour, young people, LGBT folk and women”
    So true…
    But then majorities have always dominated the media.
    Hate media has been in vogue for centuries.
    TV 6 PM news has been full of hate against minorities since 1961.
    The news is never the news it is the news tailored to suit majorities.
    All commercial media know never to challenge majorities,
    that would be economic suicide.
    Majorities have their prejudice propaganda played to them all day long
    on all platforms so genuinely believe there are no worthy alternatives.
    Kiwi majorities have been brain dead news zombies for 170 years.
    The internet does allow for a vast range of views.
    But will those so inculcated with their own prejudice
    ever look beyond their comfort zone their preferred prejudice bubble?
    It won’t happen overnight but as Rachel says it will happen.
    Think decades not years.

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  18th February 2019

      Quite FR.

      You are in the material world ( just), not the astral world. Here, everything moves forward in a linear fashion. You can’t go back to the future..or forward to the past.

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  18th February 2019

        never fear Corky..we may be on the cusp of..something special…and a brighter future!Really,truly.

        Reply
      • Finbaar Rustle

         /  18th February 2019

        Speaking in vague meaningless riddles just confirms you have no answer of any worth. But then people in power don’t need to explain or justify.
        Proving my points exactly.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  18th February 2019

          ‘It won’t happen overnight but as Rachel says it will happen’….bit like baldness ..then..🎯

          Reply
          • Finbaar Rustle

             /  18th February 2019

            @Blazer. My comment was aimed at Corky. Baldness and Rachel Hunter. MMM 🙂 I think its called a Brazilian 🙂

            Reply
        • Corky

           /  18th February 2019

          ”TV 6 PM news has been full of hate against minorities since 1961.”

          ”Kiwi majorities have been brain dead news zombies for 170 years.”

          ”Speaking in vague meaningless riddles ” re Corky.

          You said it..Finbarr.

          Reply
  2. alloytoo

     /  18th February 2019

    Lets just park the snowflakes.

    The sad reality if most of us gravitate towards our own online echo chambers anyway (hell Facebook is designed to do that for us).

    Lets leave people to their own echo chambers and leave those few spaces which still harbour robust confrontational discussion the hell alone.

    Reply
  3. Tipene

     /  18th February 2019

    Message to the work left: don’t tell me how to think.

    Your being deluded and misled doesn’t equate to your being “awake”.

    Even zombies can walk around grunting – it doesn’t mean they have anything meaningful to contribute.

    Reply
  4. Trevors_elbow

     /  18th February 2019

    And so the inevitable move to build on the shitty HDCA begins…. and who defines bad/hate speech… well of course the right on, fully woke idiots who follow leftie causes of course…

    Amy Adam’s should never have brought that reprehensible pile of crap to the House…

    Reply
  5. The internet needs mores, not laws; just like any healthy, grown-up society.

    But perhaps a corner can be created in which people like these can sit and preen themselves in mirrors all day long, safely protected from the normal vicissitudes of reality and robust debate. They can each be given a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a reference manual.

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  18th February 2019

      Mores, etiquette or customs are established by tradition or behaviour … and the internet is behaving like our “healthy” grown-up society does!

      So the internet has mores already

      One of them is the speech that ActionStation is calling “hate speech”

      Reply
  6. oldlaker

     /  18th February 2019

    Trevors… If I remember rightly, the HDCA was Judith Collins’ brilliant idea as Justice Minister. In Hansard, in 2015, Amy Adams said: “I want to acknowledge the work of my predecessor, the Hon Judith Collins, in bringing this bill [HDCA} to the House.”

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  18th February 2019

      Oldlaker , so right . The nats love these sort of laws when used against their enemies, not so much when applies to them.
      laws mandating Auckland mayoral election donations which caught Banks with false statements
      laws under the crimes act about recording other peoples conversations – they loved it when it was used against the recorder of the ‘tea tape’, not when it was a national Mp recording his staff.
      now laws in HDCA, not a peep until lo.. a national Mp is investigated.

      Reply
      • Mother

         /  18th February 2019

        “I’m not sure why ‘indigenous thinking and values’ in particular should provide the solutions. That’s ironic given their support of diversity. Surely all thinking and values should be considered.” (PG)

        I think it would help if we learn to accept that all people have individual thinking and values. If everyone did this, Aotearoa could be healthy, wealthy and safe. Social media could possibly contribute positively, but not if we have no end of laws around it.

        Reply
  7. Peter

     /  23rd February 2019

    Action Station and the Workshop are funded by the Omidyar Network.

    Reply
  1. Action Station report on hate speech, versus free speech — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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