Ghahraman: “laws with real teeth to protect our online safety”

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is active online, and is a frequent target of abuse and threats that go well beyond what is reasonable and acceptable for an MP or for anyone, which includes death threats (something I have also been subjected to in a more limited way). See Online threats against Ghahraman continue.

One of the biggest problems is attacks on people who identify themselves by people hiding behind anonymity.

This context should be kept in mind when reading her say “We need laws with real teeth to protect our online safety”.

We have seen all over the world that free speech, equality, and democracy are not bulletproof. These pillars of society are easily threatened by the incitement of hatred against targeted groups. We know that speech, fake news, and abuse lead to very real violence and sometimes death. Everyone has a huge interest in ensuring harmful and abusive content is appropriately regulated.

Not everyone – what I believe is a small minority seem to think they have a right to be as abusive as they choose online, without limitation or repercussion.

The Human Rights Act already makes “threatening, abusive or insulting words … likely to incite hostility or contempt” unlawful against racial, ethnic, and national groups. This is not about whether anyone is offended, or disagreement with given points of view. It is an objective standard of harm, as it should be.

Freedom of expression is protected in our Bill of Rights Act, together with freedom from discrimination, freedom of thought, culture and religion, and the rights of minority groups to enjoy their culture. These rights are mutually supportive in a democracy that values freedom and equality, and can only be subject to limits that are “demonstratively justified in a free and democratic society”.

Last year, knowing the experiences of vulnerable groups, threatened and silenced by hate speech, I began the call for an independent review of our laws. Now, the Green Party is proud to support the review of hate speech laws initiated by Justice Minister Andrew Little, conducted by the Human Rights Commission and Ministry of Justice.

We do not want a change to the current definition, or to lower the standard in our existing law. What I see as a shortfall is that our law does not protect groups identified by gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. Including these groups would bring our law in line with the European Union and Canadian hate speech laws.

I have a bit of a problem with the focus on specific minority groups. We are all members of various minority groups. Laws should apply to any sort of unacceptable behaviour, regardless of who it is aimed at.

I’m seen as a member of a currently much maligned large minority, white male, and a smaller group, older white male. I have been the target of despicable abuse online.

I should have the same legal protections that anyone else has. In my experience these protections have been inadequate.

My other concern is that our enforcement mechanisms are insufficient, especially for online content. Protection against hate speech is currently enforceable through challenges brought by victims to the Human Rights Tribunal, the only recourse being mediation. That’s fairly impractical and unsafe for most victims or victim groups – and it does nothing to broadly curb violent radicalisation on fringe online platforms.

It’s far too slow. It can take months to go through the Human Rights Tribunal, which makes it far too late (and too little).

Governments need to take responsibility, set clear standards, and enforce them. We need laws to protect online safety with some real teeth. In Germany, that means online platforms like Facebook are treated like publishers and fined billions for allowing dangerous unlawful content. Germans know where hate speech leads.

Germans also know what can happen when good speech is suppressed and punished.

It is a proud moment for New Zealand to see the commitment of our prime minister to lead on the issue of online regulation. The Paris forum must ask how the global community can best respond to the growth of online platforms that promote extremism or abuse against women and minority groups, spread mistruths that undermine democracy, and inspire violence.

This is an important issue for our democracy, and it is vital that the public is involved in a conversation about what speech meets the threshold for being regulated, and what mix of enforcement tools should be used. It’s a matter of acknowledging that online spaces are where we live our lives now, and that the forces threatening our security, global and local, are already there. Turning a blind eye is no longer an option.

I agree that we can’t turn a blind eye to online abuse and attacks, and neither should the Government.

But it will be tricky getting the right balance.

I mostly agree with what Ghahraman says here. I have had my doubts that she was a good MP to be campaigning against online hate and abuse, and her experiences mean she is personally involved and not unbiased, but her experiences are also valuable in trying to work out how to deal with online abuse.


Leave a comment


  1. Eddie Clark: Lecturer at the VUW Faculty of Law. Discussion of public law issues, especially admin law (NZ & Canada).

  2. lurcher1948

     /  16th May 2019

    You are the beautiful woman,GG the higher you go, the more the right spew racist hate filled garbage. The right is terrified by females it shows up their male insecurities

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  16th May 2019

      It’s not a right or left thing. I find her an annoying attention seeker and we know that much of what she has said about herself is untrue. Her stupidity in claiming that she was the first NZ woman Minister of Defence was a total lie. she isn’t the Minister and two other women have been.

      I think that she’ll be a one-term wonder.

  3. NOEL

     /  16th May 2019

    Twitter tied up elswhere.

  4. David

     /  16th May 2019

    Why doesnt she just get off Twitter or stop responding to comments, she is a politician in power with surely better things to do than piss around on Twitter with just 14600 followers.
    Given her background and the remarkable position she now finds herself in which will be very fleeting surely her time is better spent making her voice count in the legislature. If she wants to interact do it on a platform that is not a festering cesspit.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  16th May 2019

      I didn’t see the tasteless remarks about hanging her up as a lamp to be a death threat; that seemed to be the all talk and no do variety and not a direct threat of actual harm. I agree that if she’s that concerned she should stop feeding the trolls.

  5. Fight4NZ

     /  16th May 2019

    Somehow GG is at fault?

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  17th May 2019

    One of the biggest problems is attacks on people who identify themselves by people hiding behind anonymity.

    I can’t say I’ve ever found this to be a problem, personally. Been attacked plenty of times but had no problem responding. The real problem is platforms that censor your right to respond.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  17th May 2019

    Golriz is quite right in one respect. Our laws shamefully fail to protect arseholes from insults and hate speech. Time for reform. Arsehole cultures and beliefs need legal protection.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s