It hasn’t failed, nor entirely lost its way, but what little it has achieved means the internet is not, by any rational assessment, safer.
Such progress as there has been means we are, in some measure, better at limiting the damage after an event, an example of which was the emergency protocol that shut down violent or extreme content relating to last year’s New Lynn supermarket terror attack.
But even this long after the mosque attacks, we’re in many ways still reacting to the expression of the problem rather than the causes.
To address this requires us to understand one another in more profound ways; a task that by no means rests solely with the Government and its regulatory and law enforcement agencies.
In Christchurch, the Sakinah Community Trust, founded by the widows, mothers, and daughters of those killed on March 15, 2019, have launched the first Unity Week. Such grassroots initiatives may yet prove more effective than actions by government bodies.
Nevertheless, preventative measures, and greater accountability, are still sorely needed. High on the list is a requirement for greater transparency from online tech companies who must surely now face independent auditing of their algorithms. Testimony to the need is the internal Facebook data that found more than two thirds of people who had joined white supremacist groups had done so based on suggestions from the company’s algorithms.
It is neither a private company’s right, nor a benign practice, to enhance the gravitational pull of sites trafficking demonstrable disinformation or hate speech.
New Zealand still needs better hate-speech legislation. The stalling of early moves was in part due to the complexity of the task, and in part due to some inept explanations of the intent and scope of the changes proposed. The still-achievable intent is not to stifle uncomfortable debate or protect the sensitive from hurt feelings, but to clarify the focus of our all-too-fuzzy existing laws.
At such times it’s important not to dehumanize those whose views we reject. As Nobel laureate Bob Dylan suggested, hate nothing at all . . . except hatred. And in that respect, the example set during the peace and unity events undertaken as part of Islamic Awareness Week, which finished on Tuesday, stands as a reminder that we’re not just reliant on more adept laws to confront malice and delusion. Grace has a power of its own.