Seymour and ‘alt-right’ versus female MPs

Act MP David Seymour was stronly criticised – and supported – for comments he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, in particular “she is a real menace to freedom”.

“I just think that Golriz Ghahraman is completely wrong, I don’t know if she understands what she’s saying, but she is a real menace to freedom in this country, whether or not she understands that she is, and I think that it’s important that all right-thinking New Zealanders say “the true danger ah… to any society is rulers who put in place rules and regulations saying you’re not allowed to express yourself” – that’s how tyranny begins.

And I’d just invite people to have a look at speeches that Xi Jing Ping gives and speeches that Golriz Ghahraman gives, and it’s actually very difficult to tell the difference. I actually looked at a couple of paragraphs – one paragraph from each – I tried to guess which was which – and ah… Xi Jing Ping actually looked like a more liberal ah guy on this issue than Golriz Ghahraman.”

It was claimed that this contributed to an escalation in online attacks against Ghahraman which led to Parliament providing increased security for Ghahraman after she got more death threats.

Seymour and Judith Collins were interviewed by Sean Plunket: Judith Collins labeled ‘ageist’ as David Seymour attacks her defence of Golriz Ghahraman

Collins:

He referred to her as being a menace to society. I don’t think she is a menace to society. I think her views are not ones that I agree with, and I would agree with him on that. And I think that she is very illiberal when it comes to people’s freedom of speech but that bit does not mean to say that he needs to put it in such a personal way that he did, against her personally.

And my view is that parliament is a very tough place, but actually for some people it’s a lot tougher and she is someone who gives a lot of stuff back to people but she also, I think at the moment, is getting a lot more than what she deserves. And I just think it’s time we calmed down in parliament, and outside of parliament, and remembered that she is just a human being.

I have no problem with David doing what he does, except that if he does then he can expect me to make a comment about it.

So, actually, just like he wants to express his free speech, I am expressing mine, which is that we need to be a little bit kinder towards each other even when the other person has views entirely different from ourselves, and we don’t need to always make it so personal. That’s my feeling.

Seymour was unrepentant:

If people think that me saying that a politician who wants to expand the powers of the state to decide what you’re allowed to say and when they hear me say it, think that the way I say it is more important than the issue of freedom of speech then I think that person has their priorities wrong.

And I do think that a politician who wants to put stricter boundaries around what people are allowed to say, when they genuinely believe it, is a menace, not to our society, but to give me my proper quote, to freedom in our society. Because that is how tyranny begins and I think we should be a lot more worried about that, than how exactly it is said.

The counter claim has been that stoking up abuse and attacks against an MP, deliberately or not, is also a menace to society.

Yesterday from 1 News: Speaker Trevor Mallard says David Seymour bullied Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman

When asked by TVNZ1’s Breakfast host John Campbell if the comments made by Mr Seymour on radio show Magic last week were bullying, he responded “yes”.

“In my opinion that did step over the line,” Mr Mallard says. “It’s not a breach of privilege because it didn’t happen in the House. It’s not a criminal offence but I think it showed poor judgement.”

He said bullying needed to be called out, and said it was leaders and senior staff who needed to step up against bullying.

Seymour responded: Free speech debate shows hate speech laws are a bad idea

The response to my recent comments on free speech proves we cannot trust government to enforce hate speech laws”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Speaker Trevor Mallard is the latest to denounce my views and try to shut down any criticism of those who would take away our right to freedom of expression.

“Imagine if the state had even greater powers to punish speech at its disposal.

“The Government, emboldened by the Twitter mob, would now be using that power to investigate and punish a sitting MP’s genuinely-held views.

“Hate speech laws turn debate into a popularity contest where the winners get to silence views they don’t like by using the power of the state.

“We find ourselves in an astonishing situation: an MP can vigorously campaign to take away our right to freedom of expression, but, if another MP criticises them, Parliament’s Speaker says they are a bully.

“Freedom of expression is one of the most important values our society has. It cannot be abandoned because anyone, let alone Parliament’s Speaker, weighs in with accusations against anyone who defends it.

“ACT will continue to defend the critical principle that nobody should ever be punished by the power of the state on the basis of opinion.”

Calling out bullying speech is also free speech. As a number of female MPs have done:

Newshub: Women MPs urge David Seymour to apologise for Golriz Ghahraman remarks

A cross-party group representing women in Parliament has urged David Seymour to apologise for remarks he made about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Signed by Labour MP Louisa Wall and National MP Jo Hayes – co-chairs of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) New Zealand group – the letter asks that Seymour “reflect” on his “behaviour”.

“We ask that you reflect on your behaviour and consider offering a public apology to Golriz for the comments made, preferably in the House,” the letter addressed to Seymour reads.

The co-chairs said they’d received requests from members of the CWP group urging them to “take appropriate action” on their behalf in response to comments made by Seymour “in reference to a member of the House, Golriz Ghahraman”.

The letter acknowledged how Seymour didn’t make the comments in Parliament and couldn’t be held to account by Standing Orders – the rules of procedure for the House.

But it went on to tell Seymour: “We, as women MPs, consider your behaviour towards a colleague who has been under attack with death threats and is already in a vulnerable position is unacceptable”.

Again Seymour was unrepentant.

Seymour responded to the letter saying he was “disappointed” to receive it, and that the group “seem to believe that expressing a sincerely held view on an important topic makes me responsible for threats of violence”.

Seymour said the comments he made “do not come close to giving me such responsibility”, adding: “Your belief would absolve the real perpetrators, those making the threats, of responsibility.

“You also introduce a worrying implication that some MPs are unable to fully participate or be criticised because there are violent threats. You are effectively letting violent thugs set the agenda.”

No, they are trying to confront violent thugs from setting the agenda.

Seymour is getting into very risky territory here. He is appealing to the alt-right in social media but I think may be being fooled by how much voter support this might represent.

It has been reported that Act intends rebranding as a party this year. Seymour seems to be already attempting a rebranding.

But I think he would do well to consider the responsibilities of how an MP speaks in relation to free speech, especially when associated with hate speech.

For MPs, what they say can have consequences. They can give credence and support to abusive minorities. And they can also affect voter support. If Seymour lurches too far alt-right he risks becoming too toxic for National to make it easy for him in Epsom.

 

Q+A: free speech versus hate speech

On NZ Q+A last night Labour MP Louisa Wall and Act MP David Seymour debate free speech versus hate speech.

Louisa Wall:

We need tighter laws because I believe hate does exist, and hate breeds racism. It also breeds sexism, misogyny, homophobia.

And from my experience we haven’t really looked at whether out current legislation is fit for purpose, and specifically section 61 of the Human Rights Act, which is what I took the old Nesbitt cartoons in 2013 to the Human Rights Commission. So that was about racial disharmony.

But in fact I think civil disharmony has now become an agenda item that we all are investigating.

David Seymour:

I find it detestable that people target each other based on their race or their gender or their sexuality, and I’ve got a track record for that, when the Labour Party went through the phone book and targeted people for having Chinese sounding names I was the first politician to stand up to that. When the New Zealand First Party said that Kanwaljit Bakshi and Melissa Lee should go home to their home countries I stood up to that.

My concern is that, free expression is one of the most important  parts of the human condition. We all experience the world differently, and we should be able to talk about that and express our thoughts and feelings.

Secondly, not only is it a very important human value, but it’s an important part of how we work through our troubles as a society, so if you look at the places in the world that have managed to actually fight bigotry and racism, it’s the places where we actually allow people to discuss their differences and work through them on the basis that sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will not hurt me.

1 News cover:  MPs David Seymour and Louisa Wall clash over Israel Folau case during hate speech debate

Mr Seymour called the Australian rugby player’s anti-gay Instagram post “so ridiculous” and Ms Wall hit back that it’s not ridiculous if you’re a young gay person coming out.

“You’ve had a series of really quite absurd cases where people have been spoken to by the police for things they said on Twitter. And yet as they’ve measured it, the amount of hateful rhetoric in the UK has increased there too,” Seymour said.

“So I’m just not convinced that these laws will work, and they can actually create cynicism.”

“Can I give you the example of Israel Folau. Now what the guy recently put on Instagram is that if you’re gay, when you die you will go to a fiery pit in the ground. I mean it’s so ridiculous. He’s been ridiculed…”

Ms Wall interrupted saying, “It’s not ridiculous if you’re a young gay person, David, who’s coming out. And he has done this three times. Last year when he said it there was nationwide and also Australian wide condemnation.”

Seymour: “Look, you know if he had had the Australian police show up at his door and say, ‘we’re going to arrest you, we’re going to discipline you’ or whatever, I think he would have actually instead of being ridiculed around the world as he was, quite rightly, I think he actually could have become a martyr.

“And that’s what’s happened to some extent in the UK. You can actually end up creating more resentment with these kinds of laws.”

Ms Wall said she believed tighter hate speech laws would have prevented the Christchurch attack, saying “we would have been able to call them out”.

“We need tighter laws because I believe hate does exist. And hate breeds racism. It also breeds sexism, misogyny, homophobia,” she said.

I think that Wall is right, hate speech can normalise attacks on groups of people, it can encourage and incite more hate speech.

But I don’t think it is possible to claim that tighter speech laws would have prevented the Christchurch massacres. They may have helped prevent the attacks, but they may have made no difference, and they may even have made an person like Tarrant more determined to attack.

The full debate:

 

How to regulate the Internet (vaguely)

How to fix speech on the Internet? It will take a lot more than this.

Jordan Carter (chief executive, InternetNZ) and Konstantinos Komaitis (senior director, global policy development and strategy, at the Internet Society) give some general ideas on how the Internet might be regulated to try to prevent it from being exploited by terrorists and extremists – How to regulate the internet without shackling its creativity

At its most basic, the internet is a decentralised technology, a “network of networks” that spans the globe, moving vast amounts of data and services. Its infrastructure layer is where protocols and standards determine the flow of data and enable independent networks to inter-operate voluntarily. A healthy infrastructure layer keeps opportunities open for everyone, because it is where unhindered innovation happens; where we build the technologies and the businesses of tomorrow.

The Christchurch terrorist did not put up a server to broadcast the video. Instead, he used the tools offered by the platforms most of us enjoy innocently. In other words, he did not directly use the internet’s infrastructure layer, but applications that run on top of it.

And this is exactly where the disconnect is. Most new rules and government intervention are spurred by illegal content that happen on the top layer of the internet’s infrastructure – the applications layer, where content exists and proliferates. Yet these rules would have sweeping implications for the infrastructure layers as well.

Interfering with the infrastructure layer, even unintentionally, to fix problems at the content layer creates unintended consequences that hurts everyone’s ability to communicate legitimately and use the internet safely and securely. The internet is a general-purpose network, meaning it’s not tailored to specific uses and applications. It is designed to keep networking and content separate. Current regulatory thinking on how to address terrorist, extremist and, in general, illegal content is incompatible with this basic premise.

That’s why we urge all governments working to protect their citizens from future terrorist and extremist content to focus on the layer of the internet where the harm occurs. Seeking expertise is how governments should regulate in the internet, but including only certain companies in the process could be counterproductive. All this does is cement the market power of a few big actors while excluding other, critical stakeholders.

As world and tech industry leaders gather in France for the Christchurch Call, we ask them to focus on interventions that are FIT for purpose:

Fitting – proportionate, not excessive, mindful of and minimising negative and unintended consequences, and preserving the internet’s open, global, end-to-end architecture;

Informed – based on evidence and sound data about the scale and impact of the issues and how and where it is best to tackle them, using ongoing dialogue to deepen understanding and build consensus;

Targeted – aimed at the appropriate layer of the internet and minimising the impact on the infrastructure layer, whose openness and interoperability are the source of the internet’s unbounded creativity and a rich source of future human flourishing.

That’s ok as general advice, but it provides little in the way of specific ideas on how to regulate speech and media without stifling it’s strengths.

The biggest challenge remains – how to very quickly identify and restrict hate speech and use of the Internet by extremists, without impacting on the freedom to exchange information, ideas and artistry.

Even from my own very narrow experience I know that people intent on spreading messages that many people would object to can be very determined and go to some lengths to try to work around any restrictions imposed on them.

Kiwiblog recently put in place much more monitoring and clarified what was deemed unacceptable speech, but those stated restrictions were quickly flouted, so offending comments must be being passed by people now doing the moderating.

It will require either some very smart algorithms that are able to adapt to attempts to work around them,  or a lot of monitoring and occasional intervention that would require many people all with similar levels of good judgment.

Neither approach will be perfect. I have concerns that rushing to restrict bad speech will increase impediments for acceptable speech.

 

Jacinda Ardern ‘opinion’ in NY Times

An opinion piece from Jacinda Ardern has been published in the New York Times. This isn’t available from the official Beehive news release website, so I presume it’s intended as a message to the world rather than to the people of New Zealand.

Her aim (as stated) is not as some people claim, to shut down free speech or to stop critics from speaking. There is absolutely no evidence as some claim that Ardern is fronting some sort of UN conspiracy to take over the world and subjugate the world population.

She says:

Our aim may not be simple, but it is clearly focused: to end terrorist and violent extremist content online. This can succeed only if we collaborate.

The vast majority of us, nearly all of us, are not terrorists or violent extremists, so we hopefully have little to fear from what she is trying to achieve internationally.

A terrorist attack like the one in Christchurch could happen again unless we change. New Zealand could reform its gun laws, and we did. We can tackle racism and discrimination, which we must. We can review our security and intelligence settings, and we are. But we can’t fix the proliferation of violent content online by ourselves. We need to ensure that an attack like this never happens again in our country or anywhere else.

Of course it is up to us here in New Zealand to engage with discussions over free speech and hate speech and terrorism and extremism and attempts to promote violence online, to help ensure that social media regulations are intended for the extreme minority and shouldn’t affect the rest of us.


Social media needs reform. No one should be able to broadcast mass murder.

By Jacinda Ardern
Ms. Ardern is the prime minister of New Zealand.

At 1:40 p.m. on Friday, March 15, a gunman entered a mosque in the city of Christchurch and shot dead 41 people as they worshiped.

He then drove for six minutes to another mosque where, at 1:52 p.m., he entered and took the lives of another seven worshipers in just three minutes. Three more people died of their injuries after the attack.

For New Zealand this was an unprecedented act of terror. It shattered our small country on what was otherwise an ordinary Friday afternoon. I was on my way to visit a new school, people were preparing for the weekend, and Kiwi Muslims were answering their call to prayer. Fifty men, women and children were killed that day. Thirty-nine others were injured; one died in the hospital weeks later, and some will never recover.

This attack was part of a horrifying new trend that seems to be spreading around the world: It was designed to be broadcast on the internet.

The entire event was live-streamed — for 16 minutes and 55 seconds — by the terrorist on social media. Original footage of the live stream was viewed some 4,000 times before being removed from Facebook. Within the first 24 hours, 1.5 million copies of the video had been taken down from the platform. There was one upload per second to YouTube in the first 24 hours.

The scale of this horrific video’s reach was staggering. Many people report seeing it autoplay on their social media feeds and not realizing what it was — after all, how could something so heinous be so available? I use and manage my social media just like anyone else. I know the reach of this video was vast, because I too inadvertently saw it.

We can quantify the reach of this act of terror online, but we cannot quantify its impact. What we do know is that in the first week and a half after the attack, 8,000 people who saw it called mental health support lines here in New Zealand.

My job in the immediate aftermath was to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders and to provide whatever assistance and comfort I could to those affected. The world grieved with us. The outpouring of sorrow and support from New Zealanders and from around the globe was immense. But we didn’t just want grief; we wanted action.

Our first move was to pass a law banning the military-style semiautomatic guns the terrorist used. That was the tangible weapon.

But the terrorist’s other weapon was live-streaming the attack on social media to spread his hateful vision and inspire fear. He wanted his chilling beliefs and actions to attract attention, and he chose social media as his tool.

We need to address this, too, to ensure that a terrorist attack like this never happens anywhere else. That is why I am leading, with President Emmanuel Macron of France, a gathering in Paris on Wednesday not just for politicians and heads of state but also the leaders of technology companies. We may have our differences, but none of us wants to see digital platforms used for terrorism.

Our aim may not be simple, but it is clearly focused: to end terrorist and violent extremist content online. This can succeed only if we collaborate.

Numerous world leaders have committed to going to Paris, and the tech industry says it is open to working more closely with us on this issue — and I hope they do. This is not about undermining or limiting freedom of speech. It is about these companies and how they operate.

I use Facebook, Instagram and occasionally Twitter. There’s no denying the power they have and the value they can provide. I’ll never forget a few days after the March 15 attack a group of high school students telling me how they had used social media to organize and gather in a public park in Christchurch to support their school friends who had been affected by the massacre.

Social media connects people. And so we must ensure that in our attempts to prevent harm that we do not compromise the integral pillar of society that is freedom of expression.

But that right does not include the freedom to broadcast mass murder.

And so, New Zealand will present a call to action in the name of Christchurch, asking both nations and private corporations to make changes to prevent the posting of terrorist content online, to ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks. We also hope to see more investment in research into technology that can help address these issues.

The Christchurch call to action will build on work already being undertaken around the world by other international organizations. It will be a voluntary framework that commits signatories to counter the drivers of terrorism and put in place specific measures to prevent the uploading of terrorist content.

A terrorist attack like the one in Christchurch could happen again unless we change. New Zealand could reform its gun laws, and we did. We can tackle racism and discrimination, which we must. We can review our security and intelligence settings, and we are. But we can’t fix the proliferation of violent content online by ourselves. We need to ensure that an attack like this never happens again in our country or anywhere else.

 

 

Andrew Little on the legal balance between freedom of speech and hate speech

Minister of Justice Andrew Little on freedom of speech versus protecting people from hate speech.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms our right to freedom of expression, including the right to impart and receive opinions of any kind. Protecting freedom of speech is crucial to our democracy and the ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully.

But in the immediate wake of the March 15 mosque attacks, many citizens from minority ethnic and religious communities told of how opinions and statements they routinely see on social media and other public platforms make them feel threatened, unwelcome and alienated.

A responsible government must consider these claims, and on a principled basis.

Consequently I have asked the Ministry of Justice to work with the Human Rights Commission to examine whether our laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech. The process should not be rushed, and I expect a report for public comment towards the end of the year.

Drawing the line is not simple. Protecting freedom of speech that challenges authority and orthodoxy will inevitably still cause offence to some.

But just being offensive or disagreeable does not necessarily make something harmful. Controversial issues in New Zealand, such as immigration policy or indigenous rights and reconciliation with the Treaty of Waitangi, will continue to be the subject of public debate. And so they should.

Protecting our crucially important right to freedom of speech, while testing whether the balance is right regarding “hate speech”, needs a robust public discussion from all quarters. This way we will ensure that all of our citizens’ rights are protected, and every person can express their humanity without fear.

Clear definitions of ‘hate speech’ and ‘harmful’ will be crucial. In current law there is quite a high bar to prove ‘harmful’.

Note that this details an examination of whether current laws get the balance right or not. There is no certainty that the laws will be changed or not.

I think that many people have been jumping to conclusions and scaremongering about this.

The best way of dealing with it is to engage in process, to the extent of contributing to rational discussion on whether our current laws are fit for purpose.

Full op-ed at NZ Herald:


Hate speech threatens our right to freedom of speech

OPINION by Andrew Little

Protecting freedom of speech is vital to hold those in authority to account, challenge the socially and culturally dominant, and enable society to progress.

Freedom of speech can give force to new ideas, but also cause discomfort and offence. It is usually the first right to be lost under oppressive regimes, and among the first to be restored, at least in name, after revolutionary change.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms our right to freedom of expression, including the right to impart and receive opinions of any kind. Protecting freedom of speech is crucial to our democracy and the ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully.

But in the immediate wake of the March 15 mosque attacks, many citizens from minority ethnic and religious communities told of how opinions and statements they routinely see on social media and other public platforms make them feel threatened, unwelcome and alienated.

Others have said these types of statements allow a climate to develop that is tolerant of harmful discriminatory expression.

A responsible government must consider these claims, and on a principled basis.

Consequently I have asked the Ministry of Justice to work with the Human Rights Commission to examine whether our laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech. The process should not be rushed, and I expect a report for public comment towards the end of the year.

The context for this stocktake is not just the horrific events in Christchurch, but also the history of free speech protection in New Zealand.

The reality is we already have laws to protect against what we call “hate speech”, which are the Human Rights Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act. These criminalise incitement of racial disharmony through written or verbal expression, and refusal to remove social media posts which are bullying or include humiliating intimate information about someone.

Is it right that we have sanctions against incitement of disharmony on racial grounds but not, for example, on grounds of religious faith?

And how could there be any limitations on free speech, in light of the Government’s obligation under the Bill of Rights Act to protect it?

Our Bill of Rights draws on worldwide traditions to uphold basic human rights. The law has a close family link to one of the founding documents of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration upholds freedom of thought and religion and the right to hold opinions “without interference”. But, forged in an international effort determined to eliminate the hatred and discrimination that drove World War II, it also called on us all to act towards one another in a spirit of “brotherhood”, and affirmed the right of every person to be protected against discrimination.

It drew on the revolutionary charters of the Enlightenment, the United States and French constitutions. Both protected free speech, with the Americans emphasising the equality of all people and the French stating liberty is the freedom to do anything which doesn’t harm others.

When speech threatens others, or is abusively discriminatory, then it has the potential to cause harm and encroach on the freedom of others.

As with the heritage that inspired it, our Bill of Rights recognises what it describes as justified limitations. It does so to ensure the exercise of a freedom by one person does not deny freedom to others.

Drawing the line is not simple. Protecting freedom of speech that challenges authority and orthodoxy will inevitably still cause offence to some.

But just being offensive or disagreeable does not necessarily make something harmful. Controversial issues in New Zealand, such as immigration policy or indigenous rights and reconciliation with the Treaty of Waitangi, will continue to be the subject of public debate. And so they should.

Protecting our crucially important right to freedom of speech, while testing whether the balance is right regarding “hate speech”, needs a robust public discussion from all quarters. This way we will ensure that all of our citizens’ rights are protected, and every person can express their humanity without fear.

We need to think outside the legal square to deal with ‘hate speech’

I think that relying on legislation and the courts to deal with ‘hate speech’ issues may be largely futile. Laws and courts poorly suited to dealing with most online ‘hate speech’

We already have laws that deal with abusive speech and incitement – since the Christchurch mosque massacres there have been a number of arrests, with several people remanded in custody. While this has picked up on some of the more extreme examples and may have sent a warning message to others there has been a quick resurgence in derogatory and divisive speech online.

Just waiting for the police and courts to deal with the worst is not likely to be much of a solution.

I don’t think that widening the laws to make less serious ‘hate speech’ illegal and subject to prosecution is a practical approach.

One problem is what speech justifies prosecution. Another is who gets to decide.

And with the speed at which speech circulates online the legal system is generally far too slow to react, and even slower to deal with it.

Confronting and ridiculing have been suggested as ways of dealing with ‘hate speech’. To be effective this has to be fast and fact based.

Perhaps something like the Press Council or Broadcasting Standards Authority could be set up, but geared for rapid response – combating bad speech with good speech.

This could involve research so that common ways of replicating divisive and derogatory speech (and there are common patterns and techniques for some of it).

A website as a source of fact based rebuttals would be useful.

This could be Government funded but non-political and non-legal, but with an ability to refer the worst cases to the police.

I think we have to be thinking outside the legal square in looking at ways to deal with this. Some legislative tweaks may be warranted, but the main problems probably (and should) fall short of being made illegal.

Well meaning waffle on free speech v hate speech from two MPs

The opinions from National Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan from Stuff:  The delicate balance of free speech v hate speech

Stuart Smith

Finding a means to restrict free speech by legislating against “hate speech” – the modern version of blasphemy – is something that must be carefully considered.

Hate speech and harmful extremism, on any platform, should not be tolerated, and we are right to scrutinise the role of social media in the context of the Christchurch tragedy, and the wider issue of extremism and hate speech.

Our legal system has recourse for those seeking to incite violence.

If we legislated against hate speech, who would decide what constitutes hate speech?

I think that this is one of the primary concerns.

That is why I believe that some of the calls to regulate free speech through legislation may go too far. There is a risk that, as with many difficult and potentially harmful issues that society grapples with, attempts to regulate social media too heavily will drive groups underground to the “dark web”.

Or talk about it in private away from the Internet. That probably happens already.

This issue is not new. Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Massey University, was to give a very timely public lecture called The Politics of Hate in the Age of the Internet on March 19, but this was postponed.

He states that research points to a significant spike in online hate speech since 2017.

I agree with his argument that we should not allow it to become normalised and that this is not simply about legislation, but public awareness and discussion.

It is up to all New Zealanders to keep this important conversation going.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Access to the internet along with social media platforms has undeniably changed the way we consume information.

While discrimination and hate may have always existed, they now have new, powerful distribution channels.

Social media platforms have served to amplify hate speech across the world. It can be difficult to get rid of harmful messages and hateful comments on social media. Even if the original comment or post is deleted, someone, somewhere, could have already copied and shared it.

It’s time for social media platforms to act to prevent the spread of hate.

Major social media platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have poor records at preventing ‘hate speech’. They are too concerned about making money.

In the wake of March 15, we have the opportunity to confront the racism, xenophobia and hate that is proliferated through these channels. As individuals, we are each responsible for what we put out there on the internet, and as a country, there is an appetite for change.

As individuals we also have a responsibility to challenge harmful crap speech, both online and in our offline lives.

The Government believes the best and most enduring way to ensure change is to act collaboratively with other governments and with social media companies. The problem is global so the solution needs to be too.

The Prime Minister has committed to New Zealand playing a leading role in this change and Kiwis can expect to see more details of our plans in this space in the coming weeks.

I doubt that relying on international companies and other governments is going to deal with this adequately.

We need to come up with local means of dealing with global problems.

I am disappointed with these contributions to the discussion by Radhakrishnan and Smith. They may help keep the discussion going but they haven’t added much if anything themselves.

Franks v Ghahraman, free speech v hate speech

Lawyers Golriz Ghahraman and Stephen Franks debated free speech versus hate speech on Newshub Nation yesterday.

Ghahraman wants laws to address hate speech (there are dangers with this if it is poorly defined or speech is restricted too much. She as asked “how do you determine that, when these things are actually often in the eye of the beholder”?

So the definition of hate speech is a little bit like definitions of other limitations of free speech that already apply in our law to protect individuals. Defamation exists for example, and it’s about harm. So you can’t lie about a person to damage their reputation, make them unsafe, make them unemployable for example, those are very real harms that can come from speech and we have legislated against that for individuals.

Those laws haven’t protected Ghahraman from hate tweets, or hateful comments on Facebook, Whale Oil and Kiwiblog.

What we’re saying is the same type of thing should apply to groups. In France they actually define hate speech as very similar to defamation as they do in other parts of Europe.

So it’s about whether a third party would be moved, and this is the standard in New Zealand in terms of our jurisprudence, whether a third party would find this speech to be such that they would become hostile toward that group.

It’s not about how the group feels.

Inciting hostility in a third party.

Franks:

It’s an objective view of how they would feel. It’s putting yourself into their shoes.

The essence of what’s missing is that truth is no defence.

In defamation truth is an absolute defence, and that’s because of the view that we all ought to be able to challenge and be offensive, and call out beliefs and views that are bad.

There’s absolutely no doubt that for many Catholics, exposing priest pederasty has been offensive, under all the tests of hate speech, it’s hate speech, because it makes them feel bad and it ought to make them feel  bad.

He believes that all speech should be allowed, including hate speech which should be combated by ridiculing it (I think there are flaws to this).

The power of bad religion has only been defeated by satire, by ridicule, by exposure.

A major problem though is when all members of a religion are ridiculed due to the bad application of that religion by a small minority.

“It’s time to have a conversation about our hate speech laws”

Green MP Golriz Gharahman has been busy on Twitter encouraging “a conversation about our hate speech laws”.

She has first hand knowledge of hate speech, having been on the receiving end of awful attacks online.

This has also been promoted by the Green Party.

We now know that hate speech allowed to grow and be amplified online is undermining democracy around the world.

In New Zealand we know that it can be fatal.

The Bill of Rights Act protects free speech, but it’s balance against all our other rights. Our laws already protect individuals against harmful speech. You can’t threaten people. You can’t harm their reputation.

This isn’t really very accurate. The current laws don’t protect us, they give us some means of doing something about being threatened or having our reputations being harmed, but these means are usually far too slow and too inexpensive.

The police will only act on alleged threats if they thing there is a risk of serious harm.

Defamation proceedings are lengthy (Blomfield v Slater has taken six years so far to find that later had no defence, but damages are unlikely to be determined for another year or so) and very expensive. Most people can’t afford to protect their reputations via our current laws.

If defamation against individuals is already illegal, why should people be allowed to harm minority groups.

Including major minority groups?

What constitutes ‘harm’ is contentious and difficult to define. It can range from perceived hard feelings to escalation to actual physical harm.

Most new Zealanders would be shocked to find that our hate speech laws don’t cover religious minorities. They don’t cover gender, the Rainbow community, or the disabilities community.

All religions are minorities. There re no single ‘communities’ of Rainbow or for people with disabilities.

We need to change that.

We must make New Zealand the kind of place where we all feel truly safe and at home.

We certainly should work to change things for the better when it comes to speech.

But is it possible for everyone to feel ‘truly safe’ from hurt, while also feel truly safe to openly say what we think?

From follow up tweets:

You definitely shouldn’t be allowed to spread hate against a protected group based on your religion. Having well defined hate speech laws that assert equal protection for everyone’s rights and safety would do just that.

Deciding on “well defined hate speech laws that assert equal protection for everyone’s rights and safety” will be very challenging. And equal protection means there should not be specified ‘protected groups’.

It’s frightening that LGBTQIA communities aren’t protected against hate speech in NZ given the very real violence that translates to. Why is it unlawful to speak harmful mistruths about an individual and not a group?! Definitely time to realise we’re behind on this one.

Violent and intolerant language can contribute to actual physical violence – but a lot of harm can be done just with words.

A lot more tolerance of minority races, ethnicities, nationalities, political preferences, religions, gender and sexual preferences would be a major step forward.

But alongside this there must be some tolerance of speech that some people may feel uncomfortable with or offended by – it is common to hear people saying they hate opinions that differ from their own.

We need to have more than just conversations about how we address harmful speech, we need to have a robust debate about the balance between potentially harmful speech, and the freedom to speak in a normal and socially acceptable way.

Justice Minister says hate speech laws ‘very narrow’ with gaps

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has said that New Zealand hate speech laws are too narrow and there were gaps in the law, but also said that any changes needed to be robustly debated.

RNZ:  Current hate speech law ‘very narrow’ – Justice Minister Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says gaps exist in current laws around hate speech and what should be considered an offence.

Mr Little announced on Saturday that he was fast-tracking the review, which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

Mr Little told Morning Report today the current law specific to hate speech offences was “very narrow”.

“It applies to inciting racial disharmony, it doesn’t relate to expressions that incite discrimination on religious grounds or identity or a range of other grounds.”

“If you look at the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which is the other law we have dealing with what we might describe as hate speech, it’s very thorough but the question is whether the processes that are available under that legislation are as accessible and as good as they might be, so there’s grounds to review both those areas,” he said.

On who is covered under current law, Mr Little said: “If your hateful expressions and hateful actions are directed at somebody’s religion, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination other than race then actually it doesn’t cover that, there’s no offence at that point.”

He said you could potentially lay a complaint for mediation with the Human Rights Commission, but that the most gross type of expression seen around the Christchurch terror attacks wouldn’t be covered by it and that looked like there was a gap in the law.

He said the review would make clear whether the law does fit. He’s not convinced it does, but said he’ll leave it up to the experts doing the review.

Mr Little said the issue about where the line was drawn was the most difficult part of any law that constrains expression and speech.

“The reality is we know that there are forms of expression on social media and elsewhere that you can see at face value are totally unacceptable and not worthy of defence but then there are opinions and views that we might disagree with or might even find offensive but are legitimate contributions to debate.”

Mr Little said any change to the law would need to be robustly debated.

I’m sure any suggested changes will be robustly debated.

Gordon Campbell (Werewolf) on the legal crackdown on hate crimes

Obviously, deterring hate speech and outlawing hate crime has the aim of providing better protections to vulnerable persons and communities, but without unduly restricting the public’s rights to free expression. It isn’t an easy balance to strike.

Hate crimes have a broader effect than most other kinds of violent crime. A hate crime victimizes not only the immediate target but also impacts every member of the group that the direct victim represents. Hate crimes affect families, communities, and sometimes the entire nation.

With hate speech, it is maybe worth keeping in mind that this is not purely a hate crime vs free speech issue. Speech has never been entirely free, under the law. Some language (obscenity) some speech in some contexts (eg yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre) and some types of threat have always been illegal.

Theoretically, the online expression of hate speech should fall under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, but given (a) the superheated and extravagant nature of much “normal” online debate and (b) the extent to which hate content online originates from offshore, the New Zealand law doesn’t currently offer much in the way of a defensive shield.

Moreover, regulating speech online to the point where hate speech and/or the perception of it was entirely eliminated would require a surveillance apparatus and enforcement powers like those more commonly found in totalitarian states than in social democracies. Online, the cure may be almost as mad as the disease.

It could easily be worse if allowed to go too far in restricting speech.

To me hate is a very strong term, but many people say they ‘hate’ many trivial things.

With hate crime, and hate speech then, there may well be some scope for adjusting the boundaries of what counts as “intimidation” – where co-ercion is involved or implied – and “menacing”, where the intention is to engender fear and subservience in the victim. Unfortunately though, when Parliament has tried to deal with this sort of thing in the recent past, ordinary civil liberties have gone out the window in favour of rank political posturing.

Political posturing is a problem in any serious debate.

As Andrew Little has said, we have until December to find viable ways to criminalise expressions that (currently) do not meet the traditional tests of criminality – but which nevertheless have left vulnerable communities or persons feeling less safe. (Arguably, the repeated expression of hostile sentiments can serve to make an actual attack more likely.)

Any pre-emptive law however, which tries to restrict expression in areas where strong social disagreement exists will still need to be even-handed.

Putting that in context of recent discussions, that means restrictions on derogatory expressions related to religion would have to be ‘even handed’ – so should apply equally to ‘hate speech’ against Muslims and Islam, Christians and Christianity, and also agnostics and atheists.

This requirement may not suit groups that feel they have historical grievances, or socio-economic inequality etc on their side.

As the late US justice Antonin Scalia once famously wrote, the state has no authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquis of Queensbury Rules. That’s one of the ironies.

The pressure for change may have to do with expressions of hostile content, but the solutions – if they are to be enforceable – will probably need to be formulated in ways that are content neutral. There will be few easy political points to be scored from such formulations.

The free speech versus hate speech debate is more than political – it is about the fundamentals of democracy as well as the fundamentals of a (relatively) free and open society.