Law School statement on free speech

Free speech has been topical issue in New Zealand, with controversies at Massey and Auckland universities in past months. lso internationally.

From a statement on free speech from the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, USA ahead of a speaking engagement by William Barr, Attorney General of the United States:

Freedom of speech matters. As Frederick Douglass once said, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker”.

Just as speakers are free to speech, protesters are free to protest. They must do so in a place and manner that respects the rights of speakers to speak and listeners to listen…

Notre Dame Law School will neither endorse nor condemn invited speakers. An institution of higher education must be place where controversial ideas and points of view are expressed, heard and discussed.

This is such a place.

The full announcement:

But where politics (and political appointees) are involved it provoked the ‘only free speech that I like’ brigade. Tweets in response condemned both Barr and Notre Dame Law School. Like:

Winston Smith @2plus2isSTILL4

The invitation brings shame to your institution. It is a statement that you do actually accord respect to a man who has disgraced himself and his office.

Tessa Sainz  @tessasainz

So being a traitor to this country and party to unprecedented corruption is a “controversial point of view” the University deems worthy of discussion? Does @NotreDame gain anything from Barr’s corruption? I’m guessing there’s a lot of financial reasons behind this decision

KB851  @KB8511 (Lawyer and College Faculty)

So now Notre Dame joins Florida in completely screwing this up People are smart They get there is a difference between a conservative voice and allowing trump jr or Barr to do NOTHING but lie You are dead wrong ND as are you, my alma mater, Florida

I am ashamed

Megan Schweppenheiser  @schweppenheiser

There is still time to boycott. Who would want to listen to that liar and gadlighter who is complicit in bringing down our democracy? Don’t go. Non-violent protest. Bring whistles. Stand up for the rule of law and ethics! Don’t give him a platform!

There were more bitter political opponents.

But there were also a smattering of supportive tweets:

Mary Miskimon  @MaryEM106

The only reason Bill Barr is controversial is because students disagree with his boss. That’s not controversial; that’s diverse thought, and it’s what we do here in America. It’s sad that ND has to explain to the students it admitted (presumably bright).

Joseph Rio  @josephwrio

It’s utterly amazing that Dean Cole has to issue such a common-sense statement. But judging by the replies on this thread by people who evidently believe they have been blessed with revealed truth, it was absolutely necessary. Difference of opinion is not evil.

Politically and on free speech issues the USA is a badly divided country.


American Conservative on Barr’s speech at Notre Dame – Bill Barr: Religious Liberty Warrior

Last week, US Attorney General William Barr gave an extraordinary speech about religious liberty at Notre Dame Law School. I have not been able to locate a transcript, and only found time to watch it this morning. Here’s a video of the entire thing. The speech itself begins at about the four-minute mark.

The AG begins by talking about the capacity for self-government, meaning not the form of administration of a liberal democracy, but the ability of individuals to master their own passions, and subject them to reason. Can we handle freedom? That, says Barr, is a question that preoccupied the Founders.

No society can exist without the capacity to restrain vice, he goes on to say. If you depend only on the government to do this, you get tyranny. (This, by the way, is what’s happening in China; many Chinese actually support the tyrannical Social Credit System, because communism destroyed civil society and social trust.) But, says Barr, licentiousness is another form of tyranny. People enslaved by their own appetites make community life impossible. (This, I would say, is what we are more endangered by in America today … and it will ultimately call forth tyranny, Chinese-style.)

Barr offers this quotation from Edmund Burke:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

Why is religion a public good? Because, says Barr, it “trains people to want what is good.” It helps to frame a society’s moral culture, and instills moral discipline. No secular creed has emerged that can do what religion does, he says. And by casting religion out, we are dismantling the foundation of our public morality.

“What we call ‘values’ today are nothing more than mere sentimentality, drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity,” says the AG.

Barr took the gloves off, saying that religion is not jumping to its death; it’s being pushed.

“This is not decay,” he said. “This is organized destruction.”

He named secularists in academia, media, and elsewhere as figures who are not neutral at all, but have rather inculcated a kind of religiosity in their own project of destroying religion. They conduct their own inquisitions and excommunications for heresy.

Here’s a link to AG Barr’s entire speech. 

Escalating ‘hate speech’ and fake speech concerns

Claimed hate speech continues to feature in political news in New Zealand, while in the US the growing threat of fake speech – or more accurately, falsifying the appearance of speech, raises concerns about what can be believed from video.

It was always contentious trying to define ‘hate speech’, and differentiate it from acceptable speech someone might hate to hear.  It becomes a real problem when people claim that criticism is some form of hate speech to distract from the criticism and try to turn it into a counter attack.

Stuff: ‘Hate speech’ politics row in Rotorua referred to police

A Mayoral candidate has been accused of age, gender and race-based “hate speech”, prompting a confidential council committee to recommended police involvement.

The political race hate stoush is brewing in Rotorua, with councillor Tania Tapsell branding online comments made by Mayoral candidate Reynold​ Macpherson as “totally unacceptable”.

The row centres on an online post made by Macpherson on the Facebook page of the Rotorua District Residents & Ratepayers’ (RDRR) lobby group on May 14.

The post, a response to a video in which Tapsell encourages more young people to stand for council, is entitled “Beware the charismatic pitch of the Pied Piper”.

“He has referenced me as a Pied Piper who lures away vermin and children and this level of hate speech is totally unacceptable,” Tapsell said.

She said the decision to refer the post to police was made by a confidential council committee, and while not at her request, she believes that “given the risk of harm to myself and others that was the right decision”.

“Charismatic pitch of the Pied Piper” doesn’t sound anywhere near close to hate speech to me. It could even be seen as a compliment. ‘Charismatic’ is a positive term.

I’m surprised Tapsell has belayed it as hate speech.

I’m astounded ‘a confidential council committee’ has referred it to the police, unless there is more to this that I am not seeing.

Tapsell, of Te Arawa and Tainui ancestry, also cited “verbal and physical threats” from members of the RDRR, and their opposition to Māori participation in council decision making through the now established Te Tatau o Te Arawa board.

“This post was just one example of his many age,gender and race-based attacks on council members,” she said.

“His rants have gone too far so I’m standing up for all the people who have been offended by his hate speech.”

A Rotorua Lakes Council spokesperson confirmed to Stuff that a complaint had been forwarded to police, “and it is now in their hands”

I don”t see anything age, gender or race-based in the Pied Piper comment. If this comes to anything with the police then our democracy is at risk.

Fake speech

A real concern for the present and future is fake speech – concocted video or audio misrepresenting what was said or how something was said. An example has flared up in the US.

Here yesterday David showed that people have been successfully fooled:

Listen to Pelosi live she literally sounds like she has had a brain injury at worst but certainly well past her use by date. Just as well she is a Democrat so the media dont say anything.

Donald Trump had given authenticity (to those who believe anything he promotes) to a video clip of Nancy Pelosi.

But this is dirty politics. Fox News: Manipulated videos of Nancy Pelosi edited to falsely depict her as drunk spread on social media

Numerous doctored video clips of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, are spreading on social media, deceptively portraying her as if she were intoxicated.

A three-minute clip of Pelosi speaking event with the Center for American Progress from Wednesday was uploaded on Facebook by a group called “Politics WatchDog” was viewed over 1.8 million times with nearly 40,000 shares. The video shows her frequently slurring her words and her voice sounding garbled. Copies of the clip had also been found on Twitter and YouTube, which the latter had removed.

According to a report from The Washington Post, experts believed the original video was slowed down to 75 percent from the original speed and that her pitch was also manipulated in order to present her under the influence.

Computer science and digital forensics expert Berkeley Hany Farid said there was “no question” the video had been tampered with.

“It is striking that such a simple manipulation can be so effective and believable to some,” he told the Washington Post.

Both Speaker Pelosi and President Trump have exchanged brutal insults at each other on Thursday. Pelosi expressed that she was “concerned” about the president’s “well-being.” Trump shot back, calling her a “mess” and claimed she was “disintegrating.”

Was the video created to attack Pelosi specifically in this stoush?

These days a deceit travels around the world very rapidly, and while it can eventually be debunked the damage can’t easily be undone. Snopes:

On 24 May 2019, a manipulated video that supposedly showed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drunkenly slurring her speech was widely shared on social media. One version of the post that the Facebook page “Politics Watchdog” shared was viewed millions of times.

It will still be circulating, and is likely to still be promoted even though it has been proven to be fake video.

This doctored video was shared by thousands of users on social media, including by Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s counsel, with the caption: “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.” (Giuliani’s tweet has since been deleted.)

Actually Trump’s tweet referred to a second doctored video.

This second video was not doctored in the same overt manner as the slurred-speech footage. Rather, this clip was created by selectively picking a few brief moments in which Pelosi paused or stumbled (totaling about 30 seconds) while answering questions from reporters, and then cobbled them together to give the impression that Pelosi was “stammering” through her news conference.

And Trump’s tweet has not been deleted.

Misrepresenting opponents via doctored video is not new, it has been happening for a long time. But improved video and animation technology, and the speed with which fake speech can be circulated, raises the risks of dirty politics of this type being used more.

So we have contrasting situations where some relatively benign speech is claimed to be far worse than it is. The ‘hate speech’ label has become a form of counter attack, and is itself a threat to free speech when it is used to try to discredit or deter free and open speech communications.

On the other hand there are real risks from doctored speech being used more as it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate it from the authentic and real speech.

That this thing has been done before is no excuse for it being done on an increasingly sophisticated and rapid manner.

Social media switches attacks to partner of MP, Kiwiblog prominent

Yesterday the social media bash wagon continued attacking Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, but also widened attacks to her partner Guy Williams, by dredging up historic tweets.

David Farrar chose to feed red meat to his baying crowd at Kiwiblog, further inflaming a nasty campaign against Ghahraman

Particularly this one.

Williams is a comedian, but that was a crap joke about Don Brash. Fair enough to criticise it.

But to bring it up nearly two years later to add to the Ghahraman pile on is also crappy.

Ghahrama’s past also keeps being dredged up and misrepresented (more than she misrepresented it herself) – for example I have seen a cropped photo of her and a criminal she was involved in defending as a lawyer.

David Farrar chose to include the two year old tweet in this post David Seymour on free speech – he claimed ” this tweet this morning” even though it is clearly dated September 11 2017, which was before Ghahraman became an MP.

Seymour used strong language about a political opponent (and they are not words I would use) but compare that to this tweet this morning:

Joking about running someone over because you don’t like their politics.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with Williams’ tweet by itself. But I ask people to imagine this.

Think if the partner of a National MP tweeted about whether they should run over a Green MP. The media would be denouncing it as hate speech and inciting violence.

Ghahraman does have legitimate security concerns, based on the vile messages about lynching her on a private Facebook group. The people responsible should be held accountable.

I think it was particularly poor of Farrar to include this tweet in an op ed by David Seymour that he posted.  He would have known this would have fed Kiwiblog commenters already at times raging rampant over his revised site rules.

Comments on the thread include:

Brian Marshall:

She is a menace to freedom. Huge threat.
If anyone can’t see what David Seymour is referring to, then I suggest they don’t belong in a New Zealand Parliament.
The most disgusting thing is that David Seymour is described as some sort of Nazi, but those proposing Hate Speech laws are acting like Fascists of which Nazi’s are branch.

hullkiwi:

I am in total agreement with you Brian. Her utterances on this topic and other matters are an affront to democracy and with it, she is a menace to democracy.

David Garrett:

Yeah but did she actually get death threats?? Please refer to my comment above… In short, if the polis think you have been credibly threatened they are in there for you…some little snowflake who thinks she’s been threatened: Not so much…

alien:

It is interesting that in a week that a report on bullying etc in parliament we see some of these people and media bullying the leader of the act party. I’m sure we’ve all heard these green mps say far far worse about national mps and a prime minister.

Given the levels of vitriole directed at Gharaman on Kiwiblog over the last few days that’s rather ironic, defending Seymour and implying ‘green mps’ must be far worse (with no evidence given).

Lipo:

As the discussion on Free Speech is being had, I heard Peter Williams this morning say that he thought Hate Speech should be decided by (and only by) the recipient of the intended words. While this has some merit I think this is wrong.
Hate speech should only be defined as “Hate Speech” by the person speaking the words.
It is always what the words meant to say not on how the recipient received them

That’s a novel approach.

I don’t know if Peter Williams is being quoted correctly, but claims like that are ridiculous, and Isee no chance of the scaremongering claims getting anywhere near law.

the deity formerly known as nigel6888:

So a refugee politician who specialises in abusing and baiting anyone who doesnt share her communistic objectives has managed to get a few cretins to abuse her back.

and……….. trumpets……….. she’s the victim!

Utterly remarkable for its predictable banality.

I have seen quite a few cretins claiming to be victims in this debate. Seems to be a common approach these days (prominently used by Donald Trump) – attack, then claim to be the victim.

GPT1:

I do not understand the carry on re. Seymour’s comment. I guess it could be argued that he should have said “her position on this issue is a threat to freedom” but it seemed to be a robust political – rather than personal – rebuttal.

As it happens I agree that Ms Ghahraman’s attempts to regulate free speech have the effect of being an attack on our free society.

‘Attempts to to regulate free speech” have been grossly overstated in this debate. Ghahraman has expressed her opinion, as has Seymour. That is free speech in action.

There is a lot of hypocrisy on this, defending Seymour’s right criticise as he sees fit, but attacking Ghahraman for doing the same thing, trying to shout and shut her down.

Defenders of Ghahraman also come under fire. Wangas Feral:

That Collins and other National women MPs jumped in as White Knights to come to the aid of GG is the most upsetting thing in this whole affair. Making it a gender issue shows that they are no better than the professional victims of the left. Collins has really gone down in my estimation now.

Kiiwiblog has always had a smattering of worthwhile comments amongst the noise. Fentex:

Finding someone representative of something relevant is needed to make the point – ideally DPF wants to find a quote by Golriz Ghahraman representing the position he wants highlighted.

And wouldn’t finding quotes from her supporting Seymour’s position she’s uniquely dangerous go some way to that?

This is what she’s quoted saying…

“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.”

…and I think she’s been vilified because that statement takes the implicit position there is speech that must be regulated.

While I beleive people do accept incitement to riot or murder is a crime and is properly outlawed and punishable I think some, and clearly Seymour, suspects Goriz means something altogether more oppressive and intrusive which constitutes a “menace to freedom.”

After all what we all broadly accept as improper speech (incitement to commit crimes etc) is already illegal, so therefore any conversation about new restrictions must be about something else – something not yet illegal.

I think I understand his point, and I suspect many objecting to his attitude misunderstand the subject and have interpreted it in a different context (i.e if they already suspected Seymour of racism they may see different implications and meaning in his statement).

If you keep your eye on the subject and don’t let identities distract you there’s a continual ongoing debate about hateful speech and discussion of what might be done to avoid dangers it engenders*, but please don’t go haring off on tangents about different issues – it doesn’t help and only emboldens those who wish to use tactics of distraction and tribalism.

Maggy Wassilieff:

Ghahraman has made her position clear…
she believes our law does not protect groups identified by gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/112708601/we-need-laws-with-real-teeth-to-protect-our-online-safety

Ghahraman has stated what she believes, and we should be debating things like that. But we are nowhere near any sort of  legal clampdown on ‘free speech’ that some are claiming.

 

 

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.