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Techweek 2018: Hate Speech in the age of the internet

Cyber-bullying is a world-wide problem but how does it affect New Zealanders?

As part of Techweek 2018, the event “Hate speech in the age of the Internet” happened earlier in the week at the National Library of New Zealand and tried to tackle some questions regarding issues associated with the publishing and circulation of hateful content online.

One of the questions was: What do we mean when we talk about hate speech?

The answer simply is, hate speech are comments that have to do with insults, threats, humiliation or degrading treatment typified as anti-Semitic, racist or sexist.

One of the panelists, Stacey Morrison, a television and radio presenter and part of Massey University’s Te Pūtahi-a-Toi Department, expressed that the people that deny racism are most likely to not be part of the targeted group and that the people that are subject of racism are entitled to defining what racism is and whether something is or isn’t racist.

“Minorities are disadvantaged by nature as not having many people in their group of shared experience. If they feel subjected to hate speech it’s harder for minorities to reach to majorities, if that majority is determined to undermine a minority experience that is”.

She also said that the media has a lack of gender diversity, racial diversity and culture diversity and that impacts on what is acceptable.

“Are our leaders looking outside their own paradox to understand the erosive nature of being a subject of hate speech and how it can weaken the strength for freedom of speech?”

MP Golriz Ghahraman, the first refugee to be elected to New Zealand Parliament, expressed how she embodied speaking as a women and as Middle-Eastern.

“When I first started to receive hate speech on the internet I wasn’t surprised” she said, “We all know we have families from Chinese ethnicity that have been here for generations and still get told to go home to ‘where they come from’, every day. We know this happens”.

Ghahraman described the hate she received went from “mild misogyny” to threats of sexual violence. She also received racist and xenophobic messages.

“But these kinds of things don’t only happen online, it happens every time people in prominent positions exploit the politics of hate for their own interest”. She pointed out.

“Every time a politician calls the refugees ‘the leftovers from terrorist nations’, it happens when Prime Minister John Key answered Paul Henry’s question,  “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?”, with a laugh. And it happens every time we target people as the causes of our housing crisis by looking at Chinese-sounding names”.

Ghahraman believes that hate on the internet will continue if we have hate outside the internet. We have to hold those people and our institutions to account and freedom of speech has to be regulated as all other rights are.

Overseas, for three years now, the Member States of the European Union have been collaborating with social media companies to ensure that they fight against hate speech on the Internet, and for this reason in May 2016 the European Commission, together with the IT companies (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft) published a Code of Conduct that included a series of commitments against hate speech on the Internet in Europe. The institutions of the European Union and the Member States are clear about this, but are companies complying with the code of conduct? That answer is questionable.

And how do we protect our kids from this? We already know that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bullying in the OECD, so it is only easy to assume that cyber bullying must also be rampant.

Morrison believes that social media companies have to provide better tools to have a better control of kids’ exposure to hate speech on social media.

Megan Whelan, RNZ’s Community Engagement Editor, suggested that educating parents on social media is also an essential part of the solution.
Nelson Mandela said that “nobody is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or their origin, or their religion”. And that is precisely where the key to the threat of hate speech lies: in education and awareness.

The Internet is a fast channel of communication to promote this kind of behaviour towards others. How can we combat this kind of crime carried out through the Internet? Freedom of expression is a right, but it can never be overcome if that freedom involves skipping all the limits of respect, tolerance and coexistence. The good use of new technologies is in our hands.