Experts discuss life online after Christchurch mosque shootings

7:29 am on 4 October 2019

The acting head of the Islamic Women's Council has called out free speech arguments, saying they are only used to defend racism.

Anjum Rahman says the government should stop "fear mongering"

Anjum Rahman says her greatest fear is that New Zealand will fail to address the holistic reasons for hateful speech, and move to just managing it. Photo: Supplied

This year's two-day NetHui event is focused on safety and wellbeing on the internet, in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

During a panel discussion at the event Anjum Rahman told the crowd, when it came to free speech defenders, there was often a double standard.

"We know that there are young men that were jailed in this country for sharing Isis videos. We know that there are at least 30 or 40 men that lost their passports and right to travel and we didn't hear or see any free speech coalition.

"We didn't see lots of funding go to them. We didn't see anyone jumping up to defend the right to share videos."

Ms Rahman said her greatest fear was that New Zealand would fail to address the holistic reasons for hateful speech, and move to just managing it.

Google New Zealand's government affairs and public policy manager, Ross Young, assured the crowd it was doing what it could.

"Collectively there are now more than 200,000 hashes of unique digital fingerprints of terrorist content on a shared database and this is important because this enables the companies to quickly share and remove content and take action."

However an online censorship and free speech expert, Jillian York, said while there was no doubt some content needed to be taken down, blanket censorship policies targeting terrorism and hate speech, could have unintended consequences.

"We've already seen terrorism laws in the United States used against environmental activists and at this point, it's only a short matter of time before we see them used against other marginalised voices as well."

She said in the US the government designates terrorist groups so moderators needed to be careful with who they chose to censor - to make sure it did not play to a political narrative.

"The majority of content [getting removed] is not Isis and not like the Christchurch video. A lot of the things that are being taken down are things where there's an image in the background, a flag, a person ... the faces of leaders of terrorist organisations and who are the terrorist organisations?

"By and large they're the ones designated by the US government, which we know to be a political decision."

She pointed to censorship and terrorism laws overseas silencing legitimate voices.

"When I look back at my days in Morocco, I think about how national security is the guise under which they censor criticism of the royal family, the government.

"I think about how public order [rationale] is how Hong Kong is pushing some of the censorship today due to the protests."

She said in some parts of the world online censorship with good intentions, was actually getting in the way of justice.

"We've got tech companies that are deleting evidence of war crimes... Now Syrian Archive - they're incredible - what they've been doing is mining YouTube to find videos that could potentially be used in war crimes tribunals.

"And what they've found is that YouTube is systematically deleting those videos. Now these are videos that capture the actions of terrorists, but they're not promoting terrorism, and yet they fall under these policies."

Chief Censor David Shanks said that was something his office was mindful of, and something they considered when they chose to ban the Christchurch gunman's video and manifesto.

"It's abhorrent to apply censorship for the service of the state, or for the service of commercial and corporate interests as well.

"Apply censorship to keep people safe, and have independence and transparency and accountability to apply those sorts of principles."

Jillian York said New Zealand was setting an important precedent, and it needed to be done right.

"Remember that some of us are coming from different contexts where our government is flirting with white supremacists. So let New Zealand be an example for the rest of the world."

The event continues today in Wellington.