Pages tagged "Hate Speech"

  • Full of Sound and Fury: The Christchurch Call and Online Extremism

    By Nick Hanne

    It's easy for a story to get buried beneath the sheer volume of headlines which churn through the relentless modern news cycle. So, you could be forgiven for missing coverage last week of the startling revelation that the Christchurch Call suppressed a report by an independent auditor who criticised the Call's international partners for failing to live up to their pledge to fight online extremism. 

    India specifically was identified, but it seems the pattern extends to quite a number of other Call partner countries including Canada. Newstalk ZB broke the story. In an interview with Milton Mueller, founder of the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, Heather Du Plessis-Allan asked whether the Call led by the former NZ prime minister Dame Jacinda Ardern was still fit for purpose in light of this latest revelation of such self-negating behaviour. Mueller explained that after his organisation's report was badly received by the Call's advisory network leaders, led by the Call's Secretariat - NZ and France - the auditors were "indirectly threatened" that if their adverse reports were released it would be highly embarrassing for all involved. It became clear, concluded Mueller, that in monitoring whether effective action was being taken by the Call's international partners to combat online extremism "civil society participation is pointless." Governments, he mused, would decide which of their self-subscribed commitments they would honour. And in the case of the Call's international partners that answer was easy: none of them. 

    There are two salient admissions here. One is that the governments themselves within the Call network are not living up to their pledges to combat online extremism, not just the Big Tech companies - Meta, YouTube, Microsoft, Twitter/X - who have since 2019 at the Call's creation been regularly excoriated by experts and commentators for doing a poor job of policing user content. Algorithms and billionaire tech moguls were considered the great culprits of the unbridled proliferation of online hate, while government leaders who jetted between summits in Paris, Ottawa and New York delivering homilies on "corporate responsibility" were beatified by the international press. 

    Yet ever since this most recent revelation about the Call network's hypocrisy almost nothing has been said about the matter in the NZ press - aside from Newstalk ZB and The Platform – and a brief comment from Chris Hipkins on why the government needed to now step up, show some leadership and lay out a clear vision for the Call's future. He omitted to mention that the controversy in question had occurred during his own brief term as prime minister in 2023. But why ruin a convenient political point scoring opportunity with an admission of personal culpability, right? 

    Part of the reason for the current press silence probably has to do with the timing. With the Australian e-Safety Commission duking it out with Elon Musk across the Tasman in federal court over whether footage of a bishop's stabbing at the hands of a homegrown terrorist should be free to circulate on X, most of the media coverage has sided with the government in Canberra rather than the American billionaire tech mogul.  

    After decades of dealing with terrorist violence, you could be forgiven for thinking the tax dollars spent and countless hours clocked up by governments in the West might have got us at least somewhat closer to a long-term solution which honours the Bill of Rights while counteracting extremism online.

    That would be a stretch. Terrorism continues apace. But we do know two things that have always been recognised as axiomatic of free speech.

    The first point is that violent extremists - whatever their creed - represent the antithesis of a free-thinking democratic society and the existential threat their ideological motivations pose to a nation must be dealt with pre-emptively, when at all possible, to avoid harm being inflicted on innocents.

    But the second point is that any pre-emptive measures which depend on the ‘expert’ ideological assessment of a suspect before he or she strikes incur by their very nature a substantial risk of sweeping up innocent victims in an unjust dragnet.

    Determining the limits of free speech in cases of online extremism is an exercise fraught with moral and legal complexities, and past attempts to solve this particular Gordian knot in a single democracy alone have literally kept legislatures and courts busy for centuries. To do so everywhere all at once in a way that honours a range of civil liberties' regimes while keeping people safe from terrorism would have been quite simply beyond even Alexander the Great. Or Dame Jacinda, for that matter. 

    The case of the Australian e-Safety Commission attempting to bring X to heel illustrates just why. X, like its compatriot tech companies, exists in its current form because of the U.S. First Amendment. American free speech provisions have always been more permissive than other nations' free speech codes. Now consider how, if these tech giants are headquartered in the U.S., we will ever see them yield to non-American standards of censorship if their own constitution affords them rock-solid legal protection in the one economy that matters more to them than any other. It's true that after Trump declined to answer the Call’s call in 2019, the U.S. State Department under the Biden administration has since embraced the general aims of Ardern’s vision for the internet, but as the legal pundits have repeatedly pointed out: there's just no getting around America's founding document. If an American wants to post content that is permitted under the First Amendment, U.S. courts will uphold that right. And once that content is up, no matter how shrill the demands of an Australian prime minister (or any other) might become, that content isn't coming down. It has also been rightly pointed out that those calling for more censorship have failed to argue coherently which videos should stay on the platforms and which should go. For example, why is the nine-minute video of George Floyd's murder by asphyxiation held by these would-be censors to be lawful - and even considered necessary for public education in the matter of police brutality - but the less graphic, and arguably less harrowing, non-fatal attack on the Sydney bishop objectionable to point of needing removal? I'm not suggesting that certain rules for discernment don't exist in law, or that censorship of certain violent material isn't needed. Clearly, we don’t want or need everything up online. I, like the vast majority of New Zealanders, have no desire to view the footage of the 2019 Christchurch mosque-massacres – certain horrific images are without doubt beyond the pale. However, even if we all agree that the Christchurch tragedy was more extreme by several orders of magnitude than almost all other modern tragedies, there must still be some moral logic that establishes where the threshold for content exclusion ought to be. Those who have demanded so frenetically in Australia in recent weeks for injunctions on online content need to articulate a framework for censorship which is both clear and consistent. I have not seen any evidence of a rational model being presented for public consideration by either a civil or political authority in any of the countries in question. Perhaps it is the kind of problem that cannot be determined by reason alone. But if that is the case, are we limited to what the eyes of the average person on the street might consider psychologically tolerable or intolerable? If not that, then what metric?

    While it appears that current approaches are not leading us toward any effective new strategies in dealing with online radicalisation, some serious lessons can be learned about what happens when an organisation like the Christchurch Call takes it upon itself to set standards of censorship. The U.K. government's Prevent programme unfortunately has a severe case of this problem. 

    Prevent, a division of the U.K. Home Office, was created to combat the rise of homegrown Islamism in the aftermath of the 2005 London terror attacks. It has a budget today equivalent to $100 million NZ dollars. Yet despite 80% of all terror attacks in the U.K. in the past two decades being classified as Islamist in motive, while only 10% was from the extreme right wing, the proportion of Prevent spending on these categories is now allocated inversely. Concerned at reports of "mission creep" the U.K. government commissioned an independent review of Prevent. The findings summarised by Sir William Shawcross as lead investigator indicated a severe lack of accountability within Prevent and a general disregard for its initial charter. Perhaps the most alarming detail in the report was the revelation that RICU, a unit within Prevent, had compiled a list of texts and thinkers deemed "problematic" and likely ideological primers or drivers for extreme right-wing radicalisation. Among this notorious catalogue of despicable characters stood William Shakespeare, John Milton, George Orwell, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and John LeCarre. Apart from the fact that all of these figures had been white and male, it is still unclear quite what landed them together under this ignominious designation. As one cynical observer suggested, the list resembled the Western literary canon. The popular Netflix series House of Cards even made it in along with the iconic 1970s British TV comedy 'Yes, Minister'. The whole situation is so ironic it beggars belief. Even after the Shawcross Report was released many of the most serious recommendations for reform have gone unheeded. Sir William himself has since publicly called for accountability over its implementation. But still nothing much has happened. 

    Would something like this ever happen in NZ though? Well, we know it already has. The Christchurch Call has gradually expanded its focus to include gender critical activism, among other undesirable activities, on its list. And even though it has been found absolutely wanting in its chief mission, the Call yet continues as an organisation within government, though not it seems in any way directly accountable to parliament. While indications are that the coalition Government intends to make an announcement on the future of the Call, no word from the Beehive has thus far come forth. Who knows if it ever will. The current prime minister appears to be more concerned with more pressing matters. So, the news cycle being what it is, yesterday's definition of online censorship may well be tomorrow's fish and chip paper. 

  • Hate is subjective, whether hate crimes or hate speech

  • Letter to Chlöe Swarbrick: "From the River to the See" and Hate Speech.

  • Rotorua Lakes Council Votes To Silence Submitters With Censorious Submissions Policy

    9 February 2023


    Rotorua Lakes Council Votes To Silence Submitters With Censorious Submissions Policy

    The Rotorua Lakes Council voted yesterday, without public consultation, to progress a policy to “remove from consideration” public submissions if they are deemed “offensive”, “discriminatory” or “irrelevant”. This represents a clear violation of the speech rights of submitters to this Council, and a breach of the Bill of Rights Act says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

    ‘When this policy was presented to the Councillors yesterday, it was initially sold as abridging language such as swear words, or clearly vexatious submissions. Yet the true effect of the policy was immediately betrayed with discussion on it capturing “hate speech”.

    ‘Empty gestures were made about protecting freedom of speech. Yet, as the policy was described as “running a filter over things” it is clearly aimed at suppressing submissions the Council simply does want to hear. The debate on the policy was truly disappointing, revealing the contempt some of the Councillors had for the public submissions process, one Councillor remarking “you sit there and go "how did this get through."

    ‘Particularly insulting (and ironic) is the fact that the policy was put to Council without any consultation with either the public, or even elected representatives. Concerns were raised about the perception of this policy and the reputational risk it poses to the Council. Such concerns are entirely justified.

    'Kiwis have the right to be heard by their representatives and to raise concerns with their elected representatives on matters of policy. Representatives have an obligation to hear these concerns, even when the representatives believe the views expressed, or the manner in which they are expressed, are offensive or derogatory.

    'This policy, where certain submissions are screened and disregarded due to such content, is inconsistent with the role of local government representatives. We are preparing legal filings against the Council in this issue.'

  • Hate Speech Laws Withdrawn: Major Victory For Free Speech

    8 February 2023


    Hate Speech Laws Withdrawn: Major Victory For Free Speech

    The Government has finally done the right thing by scrapping its neo-blasphemy laws, the product of its “hate speech” proposals, after a years-long fight. This is a major victory for free speech, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

    'After Minister of Justice Kiri Allan dropped 5 of the 6 proposals, we didn't believe that even minor changes to the laws were acceptable. Elevating any community above public conversation and dialogue, no matter who, is an unacceptable limitation on Kiwis' speech rights.

    ‘This Bill was nothing less than a re-introduction of the blasphemy laws the Government repealed (to much self-congratulation) in 2019. Kiwis have the right to voice disagreement with religious views, even to the point of ridicule and contempt.

    ‘Even though the hate speech laws have been kicked to touch, with the Law Commission doing a 'deep dive', we don’t believe they’ll find anything that the Human Rights Commission, Royal Commission into the March 15th Attack, or the Ministry of Justice couldn’t. But if censorious legislation does rear its ugly head once again, the Free Speech Union will be ready and willing to stand for our fundamental right to free speech.

    'The Free Speech Union coordinated the largest public consultation to any Ministry of Justice proposals ever, with almost 20,000 submissions. This victory just adds to the momentum we are building, and the re-emergence of free speech as a cornerstone of Kiwis' democratic liberties.'

  • Submission on Hate Speech Bill


    If not showing click here – Hate Speech Submissions

  • Government Backdown On 'Hate Speech' Laws Major Win For Free Speech

    19 November 2022


    Government Backdown On 'Hate Speech' Laws Major Win For Free Speech

    The Free Speech Union welcomes Minister of Justice Kiri Allan’s announcement that each of the 6 proposals released last year to amend hate laws will be dropped, except the inclusion of religious communities. We commend the Minister for listening to the overwhelming public response calling for free speech to be upheld. This is a major victory for all free speech-loving Kiwis, says Jonathan Ayling, spokesperson for the Free Speech Union.

    ‘Hate speech laws don’t work. For over 18 months, we have led the charge calling on the Government to back down from the idea that hate can be outlawed. Over 80% of the submissions against the ‘hate speech law’ proposals specifically endorsed our submission. Ours is the largest petition against these proposed laws, with over 50,000 signatures.

    ‘Two Justice Ministers have now failed in pushing their ideological agenda of expanded ‘hate speech’ laws through and have now passed this poisoned chalice to the Law Commission for a ‘deep dive.’ The Ministry of Justice has just spent over two years working on this very issue. It’s time better solutions were given a chance, solutions that elevate dialogue, reason, and counter-speech.

    ‘If hate speech laws don’t work for other ‘vulnerable communities', we need to rethink the entire venture. The question, ‘if this group, why not that group’ is legitimate.

    ‘The Government must stand for Kiwis' right to express their opinions in speech and do away with the notion that gagging voices resolves complex issues. Sections 61 and 131 of the Human Rights Act should be repealed entirely and simple incitement to violence outlawed as speech beyond the pale of free expression.

    ‘This campaign has shown that through debate and an open exchange, free speech enables reason to prevail. If the Government with the strongest election mandate in a generation backs down on this issue, free speech remains a core value for all Kiwis. Today is a win for all Kiwis' freedom of speech.

  • Free Speech Union Ready For Round Two Of Government’s Proposed Hate Speech Laws

    30 October 2023


    Free Speech Union Ready For Round Two Of Government’s Proposed Hate Speech Laws

    Justice Minister Kiri Allan today guaranteed that she will have hate speech laws introduced to be implemented by next year’s election. The Free Speech Union guarantees that we will lead the coalition of Kiwis opposing these laws, ensuring Kiwis basic freedoms to speak are protected, says Jonathan Ayling, spokesperson for the Free Speech Union.

    ‘When the hate speech proposals were introduced last year, nearly 20,000 kiwis submitted. It was the most successful public consultation on any policy issue, with 80% of submissions opposing the laws. It remains clear that New Zealanders don’t need the Government restricting their fundamental right to free speech.

    ‘The simple fact is that hate speech laws don’t work. They cannot be written in a wat that clearly defines what is and isn’t hate speech. Kris Faafoi couldn’t give assurances that any proposed law wouldn’t be vague and open for abuse. This Minister is also unable to ensure that basic liberties are not threatened by this legislation.

    ‘Inevitably, “hate speech” becomes defined by whoever is the Government of the day, opening the law up to abuse by those would seek to impose their own beliefs on Kiwis through the force of law. These laws shut down important conversations and force people into polarised corners.

    ‘There will be many groups and organisations invested in this fight, and we intend to lead a broad coalition to ensure that hate speech laws remain unthinkable to any Government that values the rights and freedom of its citizens to speak and believe freely.’

  • Free Speech Union Update: 30 November, 2021

    Dear Supporter, 

    We all know we're entering the 'silly-season', but as you can see from this Free Speech Union update, it's not because we're getting close to Christmas. 

    Royal Society investigates Fellows for defending science 

    Prof. Garth Cooper

    Last week, we uncovered the investigation the Royal Society is conducting into two Fellows for their part in writing The Listener letter, which posited that mātauranga Māori is distinct from science. 

    A counter-letter was swiftly drafted and circulated by Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles — which claimed to “categorically” disagree with the professors’ views. I had the chance to sit down with Profs. Cooper and Clements to discuss the mischaracterisation of what they wrote, and the backlash they have endured. You can listen to the podcast here.

    We invited dozens of those who had signed the open letter to join us in this conversation to discuss their differences of opinion. Not one of them was willing to participate. 

    Likewise, when we asked to sit down with Sandra Grey, the head of the Tertiary Education Union to discuss the implications of investigations like this on academic freedom, she was entirely uninterested in engaging.  

    You might agree with the authors of the letter about mātauranga Māori and science or you might not, but that's really not the point. Prof Cooper is Māori himself and has taught kaupapa Māori for decades — it is crazy that the academy is so ideologically captured that it would condone this pile-on. The fact that those who are orchestrating these bullying and censorious tactics have no interest in engaging in a discussion is very telling. As you'll often find, one side of the debate around free speech is almost always more tolerant than the other. 

    Coverage in Radio New Zealand, Newsroom, and Stuff, each present different perspectives, but what's clear is we're generating a conversation  and that's exactly what free speech is about! 

    Journalist Graham Adams interviewed Prof. Cooper and concluded:

    ... we have ended up in a situation where a very distinguished Māori-Pākehā scientist who has helped thousands of Māori in their careers over several decades is being investigated by the Royal Society for what can only be described as holding a heretical view about the distinction between science and mātauranga Māori.

    Who knew an eminent scientist expressing an honestly held opinion — that mātauranga Māori, while valuable as a form of knowledge, is not science — would end up dealing with an Inquisition in 21st century New Zealand?   

    In another piece Graeme Adams wrote for us, he outlines the remarkable achievements of the late Prof. Michael Corballis, who until his recent passing was also under investigation by the Royal Society.

    Prof. Michael Corballis

    Some have claimed that Prof. Corballis was the best chance Auckland University has ever had of acquiring a Nobel Prize as he was arguably the global authority on left-hemisphere/right-hemisphere issues in neuropsychology. "Yet — despite having awarded him the Rutherford Medal — a full fortnight after his death the society had still not written an obituary. Unfortunately, Corballis had lately been relegated to zero from hero. His crime was effectively one of heresy."

    Steven Pinker who celebrated the life of his former professor with a laudatory tweet, pulled no punches when he was asked about this issue while being interviewed by Kim Hill on RNZ over the weekend:  

    Silencing or punishing someone for an opinion runs counter to reason. … No one is infallible; no one is omniscient. The only way our species has been able to do anything worthwhile is by voicing opinions and allowing them to be criticised…

    If you’ve got a regime where merely voicing an opinion gets you silenced or punished then we’ve turned off the only mechanism we have of discovering knowledge. It is a way of locking ourselves into error…

    If we have a regime that can subject someone to an investigation based on an opinion, we know from history that’s the way totalitarian autocracies work and oppressive theocracies work.

    The Free Speech Union is committed to standing up for these distinguished professors, and their academic freedom.

    Because of donations from supporters just like you, we have been able to cover the legal costs of the investigation and will be continuing to support them however we can.  

    Getting the message out there

    If you pick up the NZ Herald today, be sure to check out our full-page advert highlighting what the Royal Society is doing.

    Full Page in the NZ Herald

    Click for larger image

    Hate speech petition presented with strong cross-party support 

    Tens-of-thousands of Kiwis signed our petition calling on the Government to can their proposed hate speech laws, and on Thursday we presented this petition to a group of MPs at Parliament. Members from the ACT Party, the Green Party, and the National Party all agreed that the changes the Government is suggesting are dangerous. 

    This proves the point we constantly make: free speech is not a Left-Right political issue. Free speech is about defending the basic foundation of Kiwis' democratic liberties. MPs who agree on virtually nothing else joined together with us calling on the Government to drop their anti-speech proposals. 

    Hate Speech Petition Presented to Parliament

    It is outrageous that the Government is proposing to impose harsher criminal sanctions for words than those that exist for a number of violent offences. 

    Even more so given that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Justice have been able to say when asked what speech would or would not be prosecuted under the proposals. 

    This places an unacceptable and undemocratic burden on the police and the courts which will inevitably be left with the task of exploring the application of these laws.

    We've already seen a Police Officer in Auckland tell street preachers that "there's a difference between hate speech and free speech" and that they were "very close to the line" before any such laws have even passed. 

    There is no public mandate for these changes. Of the 18,000 responses which were made to the Ministry of Justice about the hate speech proposals, 15,000 of them specifically endorsed the Free Speech Union's submission. Yet, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the submissions were facilitated by the Free Speech Union, the Minister has repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss our concerns and has apparently requested none of the other ministers we have asked to meet with sit down with us.

    We couldn't resist

    It just so happened that as we were presenting the petition, Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi walked by, and so we had an opportunity to invite him in person to receive the petition signed by tens of thousands of Kiwis...

    Unsurprisingly, he declined. 

    Minister of Justice declines to receive petition

    Hate Speech debate with Paul Hunt

    The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, has been a strong proponent of the anti-speech laws the Government is proposing. Free Speech Union Member Daphna Whitmore was invited to debate him on this issue and did a stellar job.

    Hate Speech Debate with Paul Hunt and Daphna Whitmore

    In his conclusion, Hunt parahprased Isaiah Berlin and claimed "'Total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and less gifted.’ And that’s why we need a high-level threshold of hate speech. Otherwise, the liberty of wolves will lead to the death of lambs."

    This perfectly encapsulates the patronising and infantilising perspective that underpins the justification for anti-speech laws, and which ironically insults the ethnic, religious, and gender minorities of our country.

    As Daphna points out, anti-speech laws are a political project which the elite imposes top-down with threats of imprisonment. Why? Because they don't trust everyday Kiwis to respect others or tolerate differences. 

    >>> Watch the debate between Hunt and Whitmore here<<<

    Jonathan Rauch, who we were fortunate to have as our most recent SpeakEasy guest, tackles the argument of authorities purporting to speak on behalf of minorities head-on in his interview with Dr David Cumin available on our podcast.

    Victory in Michael Laws Case as Codes of Conduct threaten to undermine accountability

    As well as taking on the woke academy and paternalistic Government, we're also continuing to look into the way Codes of Conduct are being weaponised and used to silence our elected local representatives. 

    Cr. Laws

    We were very pleased to let you know that the complaint against Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws covered in previous newsletters has notbeen unheld upon investigation.

    Reports we've received from within the Otago Regional Council have claimed that the letter we sent to the Chief Executive was instrumental in the investigation, and the complaint being dropped. This just shows the way these complaints are lobbed about to intimidate councillors. 

    Before the investigation was concluded, we sat down with Cr. Laws to discuss the case, and how common it is for these Codes to be used to attack elected representatives by bureaucrats. We doubt these Codes are lawful and are continuing work in examining their use to undermine democratic accountability.

    Council codes of conduct: Facebook Live – Thursday 7pm 

    FB Live Discussion on Council Codes of Conduct

    On Thursday night, at 7pm, Free Speech Union Council Member and lawyer Stephen Franks will be sitting down with 3 Councillors from around the country to hear their stories concerning the opposition they have faced from Code of Conduct complaints, and proposals they have to improve the system, and defend free speech. We'll be going live on our Facebook Page, so make sure you have liked our page to receive a notification when we go live. 

    Donate to the FSU

    The attacks on free speech simply remind us again and again why a collaborative effort is needed to defend this core liberty. We are only able to operate because of members and supporters like you. 

    Join the FSU

    Thank you for making this work possible. 


    Jonathan Ayling

    Free Speech Union

  • Hate Speech MoJ Submission


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