• Hate speech in Aotearoa New Zealand: Reflecting and resisting

    Hate speech in Aotearoa New Zealand: Reflecting and resisting

    By Kayli Taylor

    Content warning: This piece discusses violence against the LGBTQ+ community, including the recent incident against Rainbow Youth in Tauranga. It also discusses violence of a sexual nature, including threats of rape.

    Today, June 18th, is the United Nations inaugural International Day for Countering Hate Speech – building on what the institution has highlighted as the growing international issue of hate speech, its incitement of violence, and impacts on social cohesion. The United Nations defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are.” Hate speech is increasingly a threat to Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly within the Covid-19 pandemic, and our social cohesion. Hate speech, both its online presence and offline consequences, deserves greater reflection and resistance, as we navigate and counter growing information disorders.

    The Disinformation Project studies mis- and disinformation within Aotearoa New Zealand – a landscape increasingly defined by the production, promotion and engagement with hate speech. Our report in November 2021 explored the growth of mis- and disinformation in the country from August to November 2021, highlighting the ways in which ‘dangerous speech’ and hate speech was being justified and normalised within our online ecosystems. Based on the Dangerous Speech Project’s definitions of ‘dangerous speech’, and imbrication with the slow or “invisible” violence posed by Thom Davies, we noted that social media content studied incited and normalised violence against minority groups within Aotearoa New Zealand. This included, but was not limited to, Māori, other ethnic minorities, women and gender minorities, Queer/LGBTQ+ people, and those with disabilities. These communities, through the operation of dangerous speech, slow violence and the normalisation of these offensive behaviours, attitudes and perceptions, risk experiencing significant and growing harms.

    Our May 2022 working paper extended this study, and placed it within the context of the Parliament Protest, and the impact it had on democracy and social cohesion. We studied how the Parliament Protest entrenched violent expression, misogyny, toxic masculinities, and other hallmarks of dangerous speech as the norm within anti-mandate and anti-vaccine social media ecologies, engaged with by millions. This is of concern to The Disinformation Project, who have observed the consequences of divisive, denigrating speech on the safety and public engagement of members of minority communities. Hate speech has repeatedly targeted researchers at The Disinformation Project. The rise of dangerous speech and associated frames caused individuals from minority communities, and those targeted, to recoil from public life and engagement. The resulting chilling effects stymie public participation, civic life, political culture, and inclusion – pillars of social cohesion.

    In the month since our paper was released, dangerous speech increased significantly. Violent, vulgar and vicious discourse against public figures, such as the Prime Minister, MPs who are women, academics, journalists, and other senior public officials continues to grow, with increasingly graphic and violent content. Threats of death, rape, and intense violence are now commonplace – and daily – within the domestic online ecologies studied by The Disinformation Project. Such discourses are intertwined with misogyny, queerphobia, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and ableism. These discourses focus on, seek to amplify, and entrench differences, rather than notions of cohesion and shared identity. Instead of focussing on what binds us together, mis- and disinformation producers are increasingly highlighting difference, and the antagonistic negotiation of it.

    Hate speech and violent discourses do not remain online. In just the past few days this was particularly evident. The destruction of the Rainbow Youth offices in Tauranga, under circumstances treated by Police as suspicious, is one example. This suspected arson can be studied in the context of recent media attention on issues such as Bethlehem College’s stance on gender and marriage, and the re-generation of debates about the rights of LGBTQ+ New Zealanders, but in profoundly violent ways, and vocabularies.

    The incident at Rainbow Youth in Tauranga has obvious impacts on the physical building, but also has wider impacts on the real and perceived safety for Queer/LGBTQ+ people across the country, and particularly in Tauranga. Hate speech and violent discourses against LGBTQ+ people, which have been growing in the online worlds studied by The Disinformation Project, have already spilt over into kinetic, offline harms, threatening people within these communities. As dangerous and hate speech dominated discourses grow and escalate, The Disinformation Project remains concerned for those who are visible minorities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

    Within the current context– long-tail effects of the pandemic, significant information disorders, and the leadup to Local Body Elections and 2023’s General Election – we need to focus on what unites us: our shared experiences, our shared history, and our shared hope for an Aotearoa New Zealand that includes us all. Social cohesion requires trust and cooperation between people with different values and identities. As we move through this period of significant, inter-related and growing challenges, the responsibility is on all of us to listen, seek inclusion, and create space for others. Part of this challenge is also to work to stamp out exclusion, affirm our support for minorities of all kinds, and work together to create an Aotearoa New Zealand we can all be proud, and part of.


    Image: Fake news, by Clare Williams from Long Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, via BBC.

  • Working Paper: The murmuration of information disorders

    Aotearoa New Zealand’s mis- and disinformation ecologies and the Parliament Protest

    The Disinformation Project is pleased to release a new working paper discussing the occupation of Parliament grounds from February 2022 – March 2022. Download it here.

    The Disinformation Project is an independent research group studying misinformation and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Since February 2020, we have used mixed methods approaches to analyse and review the seed and spread of information disorders – and their impact on the lives of New Zealanders.

    Aotearoa New Zealand is experiencing an infodemic, where the Covid-19 pandemic furthered the spread of misinformation and disinformation, impacting social cohesion and over the longer term, the country’s democratic fabric and electoral integrity. We help social media companies, journalists, academia, policymakers, and civil society to identify, understand, unpack and meaningfully respond to information disorders.

    The Parliament Protest was a significant online and offline event in Aotearoa New Zealand. Offline, it’s physical presence captured the attention of the nation and fuelled debates about ideas of legitimate protest in Aotearoa New Zealand. Online, its data signatures showed never-seen-before popularity with misinformation, disinformation, and extremist thought.

    In this working paper, which builds on research released last year on the spread of misinformation and disinformation from August 2021 – November 2021, The Disinformation Project explores the role misinformation and disinformation played in the nurture and nature of the protest on Parliament grounds. The new working paper also explores how the protest was projected on social media, disinformation and misinformation ecologies associated with it, and lasting impacts on social cohesion, identity, and democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand.

    “The Parliament Protest was a turning point in the way Aotearoa New Zealand perceives itself, and the role of misinformation and disinformation in that shift cannot be underestimated. From violative vocabulary to pace of content production, we are now studying information disorders at a scale and scope beyond what we studied at the start of 2022.”Kate Hannah, Director of The Disinformation Project.

    “Data signatures associated with the protest on social media, pegged to misinformation and disinformation, had no historical precedent. It is a tectonic shift in Aotearoa New Zealand’s media landscapes, and information ecologies. What we studied will have a significant and lasting impact on the country’s democratic institutions, including electoral integrity.”Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa, Research Fellow at The Disinformation Project.

    For media and other inquiries, please email info {at} thedisinfoproject {dot} org. Download this press release as a PDF here.

    Featured image: Fake News, by Jamila Hall from Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College, Leeds, via BBC.

  • Nau mai, haere mai & Welcome

    Welcome to The Disinformation Project’s website.

    The Disinformation Project is an independent research group studying misinformation and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Since February 2020, we have used mixed methods approaches to analyse and review the seed and spread of information disorders – and their impact on the lives of New Zealanders.

    Find out more about us, access our output, read about our work in the media, and feel free to contact us

    Featured image: The Web – Friend or Foe? by Eesa Hussain from Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, Birmingham, via BBC.