Ardern mastery of detail and engaging on extremist use of social media

David Farrar writes that he was invited to attend a “dialogue” on the ” Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online” at the offices of InternetNZ on Friday 10 May. He was surprised by the engagement there by Jacinda Ardern, and he was impressed by how she handled things, and how she was “over all the detail of what is a very complex landscape which is an intersection of Internet architecture, free speech issues, social media companies, behavioural incentives and issues of market dominance”.

The purpose was “engagement” and to ” to build a unified sense of purpose on constructive measures to address violent extremist content online”.

This is stuff Governments do all the time. I’ve been to a lot of these.

I was a bit surprised when I got the agenda 48 hours before the meeting and read that the PM was attending the second half of the meeting for around half an hour. That was pretty unusual for a PM to attend a consultation meeting. I figured it was mainly for optics – allow for a photo op (which was mentioned in the agenda) and allow us to hear what the Government wants to achieve directly.

As the meeting resumed after the tea break, Jacinda walked in and sat down in the circle of chairs with us. I looked around the room for her minders (as I know a few of them), and there were none there. This is pretty rare. Normally a press secretary will always be with the PM, making sure they record what is said, and also an advisor to field technical questions.

As the discussion from the first session was summarised, the PM grabbed a piece of paper and started taking notes. Not a staff member, but the PM. Then the facilitator handed the meeting over to the PM. She actually chaired or facilitated the next session herself after a brief outline of what they are trying to do. As each person made a contribution, she responded with comments or followups and kept making notes.

It dawned on me that rather than this being the PM telling us what she is doing, she was genuinely engaging with those in the room for their ideas about various issues and complexities.

She was very much over the detail of what is a very complex landscape which is an intersection of Internet architecture, free speech issues, social media companies, behavioural incentives and issues of market dominance.

The combination of her mastery of detail, her actively seeking opinions and taking her own notes, her lack of staff in the room, and also the total lack of barriers between the PM and participants (all sitting around in a circle) made everyone in that room feel they were genuinely being useful, and this wasn’t just tick the box consultation. Her performance reminded me in fact of John Key at various events, as Key had a way of talking with an audience, rather than to an audience, that was first class.

This sounds very promising, both that social media issues related to violence and terrorism may have a chance of being addressed by international leaders and online media companies, and also that Ardern is growing into the job as Prime Minister and on some issues at least she is very capable of leading.