Plan for NZ system that will help parents protect their children online

…a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child.

The Internet has had a major impact on society. Many of us use it daily, it has become an integral part of our lives. There are many good things we can use the Internet for, but there are also many dangers, especially for children.

There is increasing evidence of the extent to which young people are routinely seeing horrible material on their social media feeds. The Youth and Porn study that came out late in 2018, commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, showed that of 2000 New Zealand teenagers aged between 14 and 17, three-quarters of the boys had seen online porn, and more than half the girls – including sexual violence and non-consensual sex. One in four had seen it before the age of 12. Most had not been looking for it, but they came across it anyway. Most had not talked about this with their parent or caregiver.

Such facts can make parents feel very disempowered and helpless.

It’s common for parents to have little idea what their children do and see online. There is a plan to trial a system in New Zealand to give them control over what their children can do.

Matt Blomfield is the victim of some of the worst online attacks and harassments, much of it via the Internet, based on a sustained series of attacks on the Whale Oil blog. He was also attacked and badly injured at his home by a man with a shotgun. This was witnessed by his wife and daughters.

Matt took Cameron Slater to court over this and after years of battling he won. Slater filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and his company, Social Media Consultants went into liquidation. Matt took control of the whaleoil,co,nz website, which he is now using to promote his plan to give parents better control over what their children do online.

Now if you go to whaleoil.co.nz you will see this:

In the minutes and hours following the shooting of nearly 100 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 this year, Matt Blomfield’s 13-year-old daughter had live footage of the carnage shared to her Instagram account by four separate people. She watched the whole thing, filmed by the gunman on a GoPro attached to his helmet. She saw terror and panic; she saw real people ripped apart by real bullets. She saw the blood. She didn’t tell her parents.

Many of the other kids at her school also saw the video, as did many thousands of others around New Zealand and the world. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube… it was shared more than 1.5 million times. It just popped up on people’s – children’s – social media feeds, unasked for.

It was only some months later that his daughter told Matt what she’d seen. It’s a parent’s nightmare, he says. He felt keenly that his ability to raise his daughters the way he wanted to – that is, appropriately protected, with some control over the rate at which they are exposed to the complexities of the world – had been usurped by the giant corporations whose platforms bring horrible material straight to his kids’ devices.

It felt very wrong. Something needs to be done, he said to himself.

In fact, Matt had already begun work on “next”.  After years of putting energy into the fighting negative court battles with Slater, Matt wanted to work on projects that contribute positively. During his years of struggle he thought long and hard about the wider issues inherent in his personal battle: the immensely complex matter of balancing democratic access to the internet and freedom of expression on it, against controls to prevent it becoming a weapon of harm; the inability of our justice and enforcement systems to effectively respond to breaches of the law when they happen on social media; the sheer, global scale of the platforms that dominate the internet, and the difficulty for individual jurisdictions in controlling content.

When you are attacked and harassed online it can be very difficult to defend yourself and to stop the attacks. I know from my own experiences – the @laudafinem twitter account was used to attack many people with apparent impunity. It has only just been suspended: “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules” – but that can be difficult to achieve, Twitter dismissed my complaints in 2015. Lauda Finem’s website was shut down in 2017 but they still have content online, including numerous breaches of name suppression orders. Courts are still dealing with some this, but they are very slow, with complaints made five years ago still not over.

This is bad enough for adults. There are also many risks for children.

In November 2016, he drafted a Universal Declaration of Rights Pertaining to the Internet. He managed to get some interest from the Privacy Foundation, with a little more interest expressed by organisations in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings. He’d hoped it might get championed at government level, but so far that hasn’t happened.

He watched with considerable interest as Ardern headed overseas in the wake of the Christchurch shootings to try and win multi-lateral cooperation to better control the spread of harmful material. He noted the increasing public concern and debate about social media platforms but, along with that, the powerless handwringing that usually accompanies such conversations. Many people, and certainly many parents, not only worry about the material that children are watching, but are also deeply conflicted about both their ability and their right to do anything about it.

Matt has no such dilemma.

“As parents, we have a responsibility for our children not to watch mass shootings at age 13, or porn at age 10,” he says. “Let’s stop and take a look at what the problem is, the elephant in the room, which is what’s happening right here on our own shores. Our kids, here in New Zealand, are watching stuff that no parent would want them watching”.

“We’re sitting here worrying about youth suicide statistics, youth mental health, young kids who feel shit about their own bodies and their own lives, kids who are getting their sex and relationship education through free porn sites controlled by massive corporates. And we’re sitting here going, this needs to change. And we’re waiting for the government to do it. Waiting for Facebook to do. Waiting for Instagram to do it. Waiting for who?”

“Jacinda’s efforts are good, but only partially deal with the problem. Up until now, the corporates have decided what happens to us online, and now they’re deciding what steps they’re going to take to help us. We can’t leave it up to them. Let’s take the steps ourselves and get back some control.”

Matt believes it will take a community effort to save our children from the harmful effects of exposure to damaging and illegal material on the internet. Our own community, saving our own children.

“Who are we counting on to sort this out for us? And the answer is, it’s not one person’s fix. This is not just a corporate or government issue. It’s a collective issue. We need a combination of commercial businesses, academia and government to work together on this with a common goal of saving our kids.”

He’s right. We can’t rely on large corporates like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to protect us and our children. we can’t rely on our Government, who haven’t done much so far.

Perhaps we need someone like Matt to promote much better action, but the more support he gets the more chance of achieving something worthwhile.

He talked to people he knows in the technology sector, and it became apparent to him that the technology already exists that could put the power back into the hands of parents. What doesn’t exist, however, is a system around the technology to ensure that it’s easy to use, flexible enough to provide for individual choice and control, and expertly tailored to acknowledge important steps of a child’s developing maturity. In other words, this concept needed a comprehensive vision and, crucially, a plan.

That is what Matt’s doing next.

He’s begun putting together an informal working group, comprising technology experts in big data, AI and software development, child development specialists, media academics, and ISP and handset providers – as well as smart business minds, branding and sales experts. He’s casting his net wide, hoping other people with expertise and ideas in this broad area will get in touch.

He envisages a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child. Information will be provided about child development, and the levels of understanding inherent in each stage of a child’s developing intellectual and emotional maturity.

“People are daunted by the scale of the internet,” Matt acknowledges.

Daunting, but we will only remain helpless if we don’t do more to help ourselves, and our children and grandchildren.

“We know that China simply banned Facebook – they can do that because they are an authoritarian society. Of course, we don’t want to do that anyway, but it points to the difficulty of creating safeguards in a society like ours where we’re concerned about censorship and the fair balance of opinions. So, let’s give the power back to the people and let the people decide.

“Big corporations want your data. They use it to learn a lot about you, to push advertising and sell you more. On the other hand, they do not enable you to have access to that data, and there is no AI looking out for people in this equation.  There is no balance of data, no fair exchange of value.  As an example, Google is starting to get its hands on individuals’ health data (Stuff: ‘Google wants to get its hand on your health data’, 17-11-19) without people’s consent; its objective is to grow its revenues.

“My plan is about taking that control away from the corporates, and taking the responsibility away from them in some sense because we don’t trust them with that responsibility. We’ll give parents the choice to decide what they can and can’t see.”

New Zealand is the perfect place to trial such a system, he believes.

If enough of us think that something can and should be done, we can help make it happen.

If you are interested in discussing this with Matt, send an email to:  MATT@BLOMFIELD.CO.NZ

Watch this space.

MP requires protection after escalation in death threats, but abuse continues

Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman now requires a security escort after an escalation in threats being made against her.

She has attracted a lot of attention in social media, and some of it from bad to despicable. I get it that some people don’t like some of what she champions and proposes, but there is no excuse for the levels of abuse she has been subjected to.

Even after the police protection was publicised there were people on Twitter blaming her for attracting abuse, and making excuses for abuse.

RNZ: Green MP Golriz Ghahraman gets security escort

Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman will have a security escort with her whenever she leaves Parliament after her security risk was escalated by police.

Ms Ghahraman said it came after a Newshub story about white supremacy revealed she was being talked about in a dangerous manner.

Her safety was put at further risk after comments made by the ACT leader David Seymour that she was a “real menace to freedom in this country”, she said.

“As you can imagine, it’s distressing to have secret white supremacist groups talking about you and to have that escalated to the level of the mainstream and I think it kind of gives us all a feeling of how those targeted communities feel.”

However, Mr Seymour disputed her safety was put at risk by his comments.

“She’s someone who gives back as good, if not a lot more, than she gets in political debate.”

Seymour has got himself into a precarious situation with this. He has helped feed to abusers and conspiracy theorists.

But he said nobody in this country deserved to be threatened with violence and no MP should have to shrink from political debate because some people were thugs and bullies.

He should take a good look at the rhetoric and escalating abuse that he has become a part of.

Scott Hamilton RTM @SikotiHamiltonR:

Seymour’s words about resonated with a conspiracy theory that’s been growing amongst conservative Pakeha since March the 15th. Visitors to the popular facebook page of former Act adman John Ansell can see the conspiracy in full bloom. Ansell & co believe that a slow moving coup d’etat began on March the 15th.

As bizarre as it sounds, they consider the atrocities of that day a ‘false flag operation’, designed to legitimise the elimination of democracy by Ardern’s ‘communist’ government. Ansell & co think they’re targets.

When Seymour called a menace to freedom, b/c she has been advocating law changes after March the 15th, his words were treated by Ansell & his fellow paranoics as further evidence of a coup d’etat & coming civil war. Seymour’s feeding some worrying delusions

There are already claims that Ghahraman requiring protection is a set up as part of a conspiracies that have been spreading – for more see Wacky conspiracies being pushed at Whale Oil.

@fhill16n Twitter:

Just to build on the conspiracy angle I see there’s a theory going around that Golriz’s need for security is being faked / overstated and is being driven by the “left-wing media” and our “communist government”

If anyone tries any of that sort of ‘speculation’ or conspiracy mongering here without any evidence to back up what they claim they will find they are not welcome here.

Since 15 March there has been a noticeable lift in abuse and making excuses for abuse.

Ghahraman has brought some criticism on herself with some of what she has claimed and proposed, but that is no reason to excuse an escalation in abuse. This is a worrying  in New Zealand politics.

 

Tobacco retailer safety

With the continually rising price of tobacco and cigarettes, and a presumption (mine) that people inclined towards committing crime and those associated with them  also tend to be inclined towards smoking, the number of robberies related to tobacco have increased. These robberies are often violent, and dairy owners and staff  are often the victims.

Dairies can choose whether to stock tobacco products or not, but it is a major source of revenue for the small businesses. Who should be responsible for their safety?

Of course the police have a duty to protect any retailer of legal products from theft and violence – to an extent. They cant be at every dairy all the time.

ACT MP David Seymour is suggesting that the Government direct more of the substantial amount of tax and duties they get from tobacco into paying for retailer safety.

Another suggestion is to admit that escalating taxes and prices have created an unintended consequence, and lowering the taxes would alleviate the theft and violence problem but that is debatable.

Today’s ODT editorial looks at the problem, and comes up with what should have been an obvious answer – tobacco product suppliers should protect their retailers.

ODT: The smoking gun of tobacco taxes

Dairy owners are again starting to worry that the next person who enters their shop may be a thief who could turn violent as he or she demands cash and, increasingly, tobacco products.

A search of media outlets shows a pattern of increasing crime against sellers of tobacco products, as their price has escalated through increased excise taxes.

The New Zealand tobacco industry says it makes a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy in terms of government revenue, retail sales and employment. It pays more than $1.8 billion in total taxes each year.

Tobacco products make their largest financial contribution to the economy in the form of excise taxation. The industry also says tobacco is an important source of revenue for about 5000 New Zealand retailers, the vast majority of whom are small, independent retailers and dairies.

A debate has again broken out about who should pay for the protection of the retailers selling the tobacco products. Fewer outlets are now selling tobacco and communities celebrate the success, believing fewer people are smoking as outlets reduce.

However, aggressive cost-cutting has helped some of the largest tobacco companies retain their profits, despite falling sales.

One of the arguments being made to help protect dairy owners is to just stop selling tobacco, of course ignoring the fact tobacco is a legal product and a genuine part of a service dairy owners can offer their customers. Unless another high-margin product emerges to replace it, dairy owners will still sell tobacco.

Act New Zealand leader David Seymour is at the other end of the spectrum, saying after two violent robberies in less than a week, it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.

The money collected by the Government each year in tobacco tax revenue is blood money, obtained by putting the lives of people at risk, he says.

But Mr Seymour is somewhat off the mark when he calls for the Government to direct 10% of tobacco tax revenue to protect vulnerable business owners.

Surely it is time for the tobacco companies themselves to start protecting the people they want to sell their products? Revenues from global tobacco sales are estimated to be close to $965 billion, generating combined profits for the six largest firms of $67.5 billion.

That’s a good point. If tobacco companies want to protect their sales and profits perhaps they should do more to protect their retailers.

Trotter, the military and the TPPA

Earlier in the week Christ Trotter wrote in The Press that Josie Butler had claimed there was military protection at the Christchurch TPPA Roadshow.

Certainly, Ms Butler’s description of the Christchurch roadshow makes a strong prima facie case for concern. In her report of the event she states that: “I went to the first security check point which was at the front driveway to the [Rydges] hotel. The guards asked for my ID, and whilst I was getting it out I noticed one of the guys had an army badge pinned to his lapel, I asked him if he was military and he confirmed that all security present today were army personnel.”

Constitutionally-speaking, this claim is particularly alarming. The only circumstances in which it is justifiable for the Civil Power to call upon the assistance of the Military Power are those in which there is a demonstrable threat to life and property. Historically, the involvement of the Military has been confined to helping out during natural disasters and, extremely rarely, to the quelling of widespread public disorder – like that following the 1932 Queen Street Riot. Nothing even remotely resembling such circumstances were present last Friday in Christchurch.

Urgent efforts must be made to confirm the accuracy of Ms Butler’s claim. And if it is confirmed that the NZDF was involved in providing security for the roadshow, then questions need to be asked. First, of the Defence Minister, and second, of the Police Minister. Did Gerry Brownlee know that the Military Power had been called upon to assist the Civil Power in Christchurch? If so, at whose instigation? Does Judith Collins know why the local Police were deemed unequal to the task of preventing disorder at Rydges Hotel?

Frankly, it would be a whole lot better for New Zealand …whoever Ms Butler spoke to about his military lapel badge turns out to have been pulling her leg about the composition of the security detail. Because, if her version of events is proved correct, then New Zealand is in a world of trouble.

What sort of “trade deal” have we signed-up to, if its explanatory roadshow requires the protection of the armed forces?

This was potentially quite alarming but Butler was not an impartial witness.

Trotter has reposted Protecting The TPP at Bowalley and has added an update.

On Tuesday, 15 March the author received a call from Nick Bryant, Gerry Brownlee’s media officer. He informed him that, having checked with both the NZDF and MFAT, the Minister was able to assure him that no serving military personnel were involved with providing security at the Christchurch TPPA roadshow event.

When contacted, Josie Butler strongly reiterated her claim that the security personnel hailed from the military.

An appeal for assistance was issued over social media which quickly produced a link to a private security firm called October Protection.

According to its website:

October Protection is a Christchurch based security and protection company with branches in Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, Dunedin and associates throughout New Zealand. We provide industry-leading hospitality security, along with VIP transport, helicopter services, secure event, travel and accommodation packages New Zealand wide ….. Many of our staff come from military, police, corrections and close protection backgrounds and their experience is diverse and extensive, providing October Protection with a vast array of specialist skills.

It would seem that both Josie Butler and the Minister were telling the truth.

Butler may have been sort telling something related to the truth, but Trotter embellished it somewhat. The TPPA Roadshow does not appear to have been protected by the armed forces as he intimated.