Assume Tank on NZ PM Name for Extra Authorities Management Over Social Media

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s call for greater social media oversight to prevent “misinformation” and “radicalisation” is very dangerous, according to a think tank director.

On Friday, Ardern’s Harvard keynote speech identified social media as a threat to democracy, calling on tech giants to work with governments to do more to address misinformation.

Muriel Newman, a former New Zealand MP and director of the New Zealand Center of Political Research, told The Epoch Times that Ardern’s government has increasingly exerted its influence on social media in the past couple of years.

With censorship becoming a significant issue, Newman noted that social media giants that had been created out of a desire for free speech had come under increasing pressure to “back government narratives.”

“This raises an obvious question: to what extent are governments influencing social media content? And is that influence solely due to the threat of regulation, or have social media companies become overly reliant on revenue generated from government agencies?” she said.

Ardern also highlighted the increasing number of people who are being radicalized online, leading to tragedies such as the Christchurch attack that had been streamed online.

Without naming any social media companies, the prime minister said it was time for online providers to recognize the power they hold as the new “town square” and act on it alongside governments and civil society.

“That means recognizing the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in,” she said. “That algorithmic processes make choices and decisions for us—what we see and where we are directed—and that at best means the user experience is personalised, and at worst it means it can be radicalised.”

People walk past flowers and tributes displayed in memory of the twin mosque massacre victims outside the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, on April 5, 2019. (Sanka Vidanagama/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to the attack, the NZ government enacted the Christchurch Call to Action, aimed at developing tools to remove and prevent the upload of violent extremist content. It also reviews algorithms that direct users to search content online.

However, it has been argued that the call to action had made matters worse by pressing social media companies to be more proactive in censoring their sites, resulting in widespread censorship across big tech, Newman said.

Meanwhile, the speech prompted Internet New Zealand Chief Executive Andrew Cushen to call for the government to step up in its policing of social media, where an increasing number of people are being radicalised.

“I think the government is missing an opportunity here. Only government can act to force social media to do better, we’ve seen good work happen over the last three years through the Christchurch Call, but we are still seeing this harm occur now, too,” Cushen told 1News. “We accept regulation in other forms of media, so why not social media as well?”

As part of her trade mission to the United States, Ardern met with Gov. Gavin Newsom and signed a cooperation deal for climate change. She also met with Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft representatives to discuss tech deals, climate change, and the Christchurch Call to Action over the weekend.

The prime minister will also be welcomed to the White House and meet President Joe Biden on Wednesday (Tuesday in the United States) to discuss their vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, climate issues, and the radicalization of individuals to violence both online and off-line.

Ardern’s trade mission has met with some mishaps, with three members of her delegation testing positive for COVID-19 thus far and her Boeing aircraft breaking down on Tuesday.

Rebecca Zhu

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Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs. Got a tip? Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.

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