Eroded information ecologies: Social cohesion, trust, and the impact of misinformation

Speech by Kate Hannah, Director, The Disinformation Project, delivered at New Zealand International Science Festival (NanoFest) 2022, on 14 July 2022.


E aku manukura

Mihi mai, mihi mai

E mihi atu nei ki tenei hui e ki ngā Rangatira mā

Tēna koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Ko Kate Hannah ahau

Kia ora koutou katoa, Ko Kate Hannah ahau.

Eroded information ecologies: social cohesion, trust, and the impact of misinformation

At the conclusion of the 23-day occupation of Parliament Grounds in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Prime Minister stated:

“One day it will be our job to try and understand how a group of people could succumb to such wild and dangerous mis- and disinformation. And while many of us have seen that disinformation and dismissed it as conspiracy theory, a small portion of our society have not only believed it, they have acted upon it in an extreme and violent way that cannot stand. We have a difficult journey in front of us to address the underlying cause of what we have seen here today.[1]

Here at the Disinformation Project, we have been observing the effects of disinformation and misinformation in Aotearoa since February 2020 and can offer some insight now into how mis- and disinformation operate, how they interact with existing inequities and information voids, and the ways in which the compelling nature of some of the most popular disinformation narratives presents critical challenges for Aotearoa New Zealand. Here tonight I am interested mainly in exploring what this means for us as whānau, communities – a country – as we examine our shared information landscape. While sadly that which we might wish to dismiss as conspiracy is having an effect on our social and political spaces, and particularly our shared understanding of the state, democracy, and citizenship, there are, as always, things that we can do individually and collectively to mitigate these effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by what the World Health Organization describe as an ‘infodemic’ – “an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.[2]” Aotearoa New Zealand’s communities have differential experiences of past pandemics, different measures of health and wellbeing, and different experiences of state services and state intervention. The pandemic and infodemic are also taking place within different nation-states, with different political systems, worldviews, and approaches to healthcare and the role of government. Increasingly, COVID-19 disinformation is linked to online or physical harm, dissenting or fringe views related to a number of conspiratorial narratives, and hateful or violent expression.

Since the election period in the United States and in New Zealand, and escalating in the context of the January 6 Capitol insurrection, national and transnational discourses focused on secretive state power, consent, hierarchies of knowledge, and related conceptualisations of citizenship, statehood, and rights have been increasingly linked through narrative, theme, narrators, and imagery to COVID-19 disinformation. This played out in in the 23 days of the occupation of Parliament, and has led New Zealanders to ask: What is happening? How are disinformation narratives targeting and radicalising people in Aotearoa and internationally? We know an increased sense of isolation, an increased sense of fear and uncertainty, an increased anxiety for the future, and a decreased sense of control contribute to an individual’s propensity to firstly entertain and then believe or advocate for conspiratorial ideas.

How do these relate to narratives and tropes of white supremacy, racism, and extreme misogyny? What can communities do to prevent this? For many in Aotearoa these questions have become critical concerns as they witnessed the parliamentary occupation and riot, and as they have engaged with loved ones who have become entwined in disinformation. I describe these as flood effects – the visible ramifications of recent and more historic erosion – of information access, of trust, and of connectedness.

Renowned public health expert, Sir Michael Marmot, writing in reflection on twenty years work on the importance of the social determinants of health, and in in midst of the pandemic’s impacts in the UK and globally, stated that a socially cohesive society with concern for the common good is likely to be a healthier society.[3]

But what is social cohesion? We know relationships are important for physical and psychosocial wellbeing – and in Marmot’s field, social determinants of health, these relationships are conceptualised through terms such as social cohesion, social capital, social networks, and social support. Social capital refers to shared community or group resources – and individuals access this through their social networks, which we might describe as the ecosystem or web of social relationships.

Critically, in this model for understanding the complex relationship-based construction of social cohesion is a concept called collective efficacy which describes a community’s ability to create change and exercise informal social control ie influence behaviour via social norms. Family, whanau, community, faith, and other organised or non-organised groupings are places where people access social networks, social capital, and social control.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we are privileged to draw from Tā Mason Durie’s ground-breaking work describing health and wellbeing within a Kaupapa Māori framework, te whare tapa whā (1984) wherein health and wellbeing is a wharenui with four walls: taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing, and taha whanau/family and social wellbeing.[4] The wharenui has strong foundations within the whenua on which it sits. These models, conceived to describe the complex interrelationships between individual health outcomes, social issues, community wellbeing, and social inclusion, provide enormous insight for the study of information ecologies and information disorders in the twenty-first century. As the research field social determinants of health has provided evidence for over the last 40 years, people who are grounded, situated, enabled to flourish and contribute, and connected to others are far less likely to experience negative health outcomes -and, critically for the purposes of our conversation today, far less likely to experience other negative outcomes: disconnection, information disorders, social exclusion, and participation in fragmented realities.

The Report of the Royal Commission into the Ōtautahi mosque attacks, in part 10, chapter five, provides a series of recommendations to improve social cohesion. Released at the end of 2020, the report specifies the role we all have in making New Zealand safe and inclusive:

Public conversations about embracing diversity and encouraging social cohesion should be led by political leaders and the government. There should be transparent conversations where information is available to everyone. These conversations need to include all communities – across the length and breadth of the country, both rural and urban. Enduring change will take time and investment, so these conversations will need to be ongoing. 

Reflecting on Marmot’s words written in 2020, the role of social cohesion in social determinants of health and wellbeing, Tā Mason’s te whare tapa whā, and the recommendations of the Royal Commission, again released in 2020, it is clear that while social cohesion – and access to information and supportive social networks was prioritised, the pandemic, including the tipping points predicated by vaccine mandates and the long Delta outbreak lockdown have both detrimentally impacted existing social cohesion in Aotearoa, and, perhaps more importantly, at least for our discussion today, embedded features of social capital, social networks, and social norm enforcement or social control within communities oriented around disinformation. In social determinants of health, this is described as ‘social contagion’. Unable to proceed with ongoing and enduring conversations about diversity and social cohesion, pockets of Aotearoa have formed their own social networks centred within narratives of exclusion, division, polarisation, and hate. The social support people access from these networks is real – and unpacking the complex networks of social contagion will take very real effort, time, investment, and replacement of contagion with cohesion.

But how did we get here? The very landscapes upon which our health and wellbeing rely are experiencing both land use and climate change impacts which are unprecedented. As globally agriculture and tourism practises – our two main exports – are called into question, those who have invested heavily in these industries might feel aggrieved or misunderstood. But as the four “once in a life time” flood events in the last 18 months in Australia or the devastating effects of storms on infrastructure in Matakaoa show, our physical landscapes, our known geographic features, the places where work and live and re-create ourselves – they are marred by erosion. Moana Jackson, much mourned and lost in this year, 2022, described how “colonisation was and is a very simple process of brutal dispossession in which states from Europe assumed the right to take over the lands, lives, and power of indigenous peoples who had done them no harm.”[5]

Here in Aotearoa, the impacts of colonisation are manifest in the physical alienation of land – for the first 20 years post- the signing of Te Tiriti, Māori maintained agency over much of their landholdings, and were the economic driver for the developing nation-state, trading as they had prior to Te Tiriti with the Australian colonies. But war which began with the invasion of the Waikato region by the Colonial Government on July 12 1863, an event which Vincent O’Malley argues is the origin of New Zealand – more than any C20th conflict. The land alienation and confiscations which followed saw over the course of less than a century, land possession shift wholly from iwi Māori to settlers and the colonial state. “Racism was, and remains central to colonisation – the rationale for the denial of existing indigenous peoples’ sovereignty was the prevailing thinking that indigenous peoples were materially, culturally, economically, and politically inferior.”[6]

Tangata whenua, despite the work over forty years of the Waitangi Tribunal to restore traditional land rights, remain alienated from much of their lands. Land – and therefore house prices – are significantly higher now for first home buyers. Our foundational physical landscapes are suffering erosion – quite literally, and also figuratively. Without those strong foundations for our health and wellbeing, people and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand have been rendered vulnerable to physical manifestations of climate change such as storms and flooding, but we have also been left more vulnerable to mis and disinformation.

International research focused on participation in conspiratorial thinking and actions describes how an increased sense of isolation, an increased sense of fear and uncertainty, an increased anxiety for the future, and decreased control contribute to an individual’s propensity to firstly entertain and then believe/advocate for conspiratorial ideas. This image provides another kind of map – here we have mapped using social network analysis, the Aotearoa New Zealand information ecosystem on a single day, March 2 2022.  This was the day that the 23-day occupation of parliament by anti-mandate/anti vaccine protestors ended. What is revealed here is almost completely bifurcated information sources and expressed sentiments in relation to the police action to close down the protest and the violence and destruction which then ensued. The blue clusters, nodes, and links represent those watching livestreams shared on social media by participants in the protest, and the commentators who positively expressed sentiment towards the protesters over the course of that day. The orange and pink nodes clusters and links are those who watched mainstream media coverage and expressed sentiments of horror, dislike or other negative expression towards the protestors and their actions on that day. Over the course of the 23-day occupation we observed in real time the increasing correlation of consumption of alternative media/social media as news sources, and support for the occupation, culminating in this mapped informationscape, which reveals significant splintered realities. This erosion has taken place over time, but the shift over the period of the occupation marks out new features of the landscape, created by that erosion.

What we see here then, are the very real effects of social contagion – the construction of social networks formed around disinformation and information voids.

What is happening in Aotearoa New Zealand is effected by what is taking place globally.

For instance, prior to August 2020, much of the Covid-19 misinformation we observed in Aotearoa was repackaged for local audiences. After August 2020, a point that we regard as a significant erosion event for information landscapes, content and material from overseas began to be shared and propagated without repackaging. What had changed? The shift of the election date here in NZ due to the Auckland August outbreak meant we were more closely temporally linked to the US election cycle. This seemed to act as a floodbreak, and US-based Covid-19 misinformation and other conspiratorial thinking flooded into an overwhelmed information ecosystem. In 2022, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia –has revealed further global contexts. Within the anti-mandate and anti-vaccination social media landscapes we study, pro-Russian misinformation and pro-Russian sentiment has been the norm since the first rumblings of war in February. The irrigated scars on the landscape which Russian disinformation was able to spread through have also been the locations that we have more recently observed a propensity to share violent content – from footage of war, to the livestream and manifesto of the Buffalo shooter, and most recently, footage from the Nigerian church massacre. Our fellow New Zealanders are being exposed, on social media, to unmitigated violence, often decontextualised, or else framed in a prosocial or positive manner.

What are the local contexts? Once again, our two years of study of information ecologies means that we can reflect back on further erosion events. The Delta outbreak, and the subsequent lockdown saw a significant change in people’s consumption of information and participation in media including social media. The circadian rhythms of people’s production of content on social media changed – content creators were awake longer, creating and or sharing content into the night, and earlier in the morning. Similarly, audiences were engaging with content for longer periods of time, and later into the night. The connection between information disorders, information landscapes, and physical health and wellbeing – taha tinana – became apparent. Over a period of two weeks in September 2021, the Covid-19 misinformation community migrated almost as one to the social media platform Telegram, which began as an encrypted messaging app, and is now the preeminent platform of choice for our disinformation communities, as well as far-right networks worldwide. Telegram is largely unregulated, and is primed, like what’s app, for organic seamless sharing between what are called channels, enabling content to flood timelines. It is not algorithmically sorted, rather user generated – and again, because of this, much much harder to regulate or moderate. Individuals and groups, vying for audience engagement, began to increase posting, share more international content not specifically related to Covid-19 or public health measures, and to start to connect international ideas to local issues. Once again, the landscape, now eroded, is flooded with content ranging from bizarre to plausible, shared by individuals and groups who have over time, become trusted.

The world health organisation, in April 2020, described the infodemic – the plethora of information about the pandemic which was making it increasingly difficult for individuals and communities worldwide to ascertain reliable and trustworthy sources. The Disinformation Project’s early work, in 2020, focused on the infodemic: what were the sources of information people in Aotearoa had access to? Did some of that information show features of dis or mis, or mal information? Can increasing access to good reliable information overwhelm the misinformation?, Very quickly it became apparent that much like the pandemic itself, the infodemic was – and continues to have – differential impacts for different parts of ANZ society, and that, like the pandemic revealed, those communities experiencing health inequities also tended to experience information inequities, and be both exposed to, and the target of, more misinformation. We needed to step beyond an infodemic model, and start thinking more holistically – a kind of social determinants of information approach.

Within the social media ecologies studied, key individuals and groups producing mis- and disinformation have capitalised on growing uncertainty and anxiety amongst communities, related to Covid-19 public health interventions, including vaccination and lockdowns, to build fear, disenfranchisement and division. Mis- and disinformation also particularly targeting and scapegoating already marginalised or vulnerable communities – for whom distrust of the state is the result of intergenerational trauma and lived experience of discrimination or harm, which increased engagement with conspiratorial explanations and disinformation.

It has become essential to evaluate our work within the wider local and global context of information disorders, which rather than assuming an all things being equal access to reliable and trustworthy information about important issues examines information as a knowledge and information ecology, understanding the impacts of different ecological landscape features on people’s access to reliable and trustworthy information from which they can form opinions and make decisions. The pre-existing presence of social conditions which contribute to propensity to take on board conspiratorial ideas – isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, fear of the future – had been exacerbated by temporal and circadian shifts in information saturation, and increased as necessary public health measures increased isolation.

Language and word/image choice shifted during the Delta lockdown. Increasingly violent language and other forms of expression, which has become normalised and justified within the groups and individuals who make up the disinformation community in-group. Language specifically targeting individuals and minority groups has become more violent and graphic. This shift has been marked in the way in which discourse, symbols and memes we would expect to observe on fringe social media platforms has made its way to mainstream social media, and mainstream media-driven conversations. This new normal includes explicit terminology, misogyny, violent jokes, transphobia and homophobia, racist invective and slurs, anti-semitism and Islamophobia, toxic masculinity, and crudity and vulgarity – and in use regularly by a wide range of New Zealanders.

The parliamentary protest and subsequent increased scrutiny by media and the concerned public of the ecosystems we study bought this content into the view of the mainstream. Many New Zealanders were horrified by the images and language of violence they saw reported, including nooses, descriptions of execution, and images of capital punishment. For us at the Disinformation Project, this was something we had observed increasingly since August 2021, and is now, as of July 2022 the normative discourse of the ecosystems we study:

Drawing on the Dangerous Speech Project’s definitions of Dangerous speech – defined as any form of expression (e.g., speech, text, or images) that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or commit violence against members of another group.[7] However,

this definition confines violence to “direct physical or bodily harm” and explicitly excludes doxing, incitement to self-harm, or discrimination. Many other definitions of violence include non-physical harm: Johan Galtung described structural violence as including discrimination, exclusion and exploitation,[8] while the UN Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as “gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.”[9]

The notion of slow violence, grounded in justice movements describes how “the temporal dispersion of slow violence impacts the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social afflictions – from domestic abuse to post-traumatic stress – but has especially powerful implications for environmental calamities.”[10]

Conceived within a context of political violence with clearly or easily defined in-groups and out-groups, the examples given by the project itself in defining how speech targeting individuals is outside the scope of ‘dangerous speech’ are telling. In Aotearoa, women associated with the Covid-19 response as politicians, healthcare professionals or experts are targeted individually for harassment, including non-consensual video recordings, but also framed as representative of transgressive women who are then targeted with highly misogynistic framing, including death and rape threats.

The Internet and related web technologies, including social media platforms, have significantly changed group identity dynamics, the impact of which is repeatedly noted in counter-terrorism studies – and which impact social contagion effects within social networks, including online social networks. Conventional definitions of political terrorism are markedly different[11], and so-called ‘lone wolf actors’ are likely to have been radicalised in a manner akin to slow violence, raised within contexts of widespread and normalised misogyny and white supremacist and other racist thought amongst other ideologies and narrative frames prevalent on social media and in others media discourses. So while we use the definition, the hallmarks, and the wider framework – the message itself, the audience, the historical and social context of the message, the speaker, and the medium used – we have, in response to the proliferation of ‘dangerous speech’ content present in Aotearoa New Zealand’s mis- and disinformation ecosystem, expanded the definition to consider violence as articulated against individuals as representative of groups, particularly in the case of clearly gendered or racialised ‘dangerous speech’. In this manner, given we are taking an ecosystems approach to understanding the interconnected networks of disinformation and ‘dangerous speech’, we view gendered and racialised speech as akin to slow violence – an ‘environmental’ calamity which is most often rendered *invisible* to those who do not experience its harms.[12]

These ecologies and the spread of mis- and disinformation point to a broader threat: that Covid-19 and vaccination have been used as a kind of Trojan Horse for norm-setting and norm-entrenchment of far-right ideologies in Aotearoa New Zealand. Such ideologies include, but are not limited to, ideas about gun control, anti-Māori sentiment, queerphobia, conservative ideals around family and family structure, misogyny, antiimmigration. Mis- and disinformation and ‘dangerous speech’ pose significant threats to social cohesion, freedom of expression, inclusion, and safety.

Most significant conspiracies start from a grain of truth – think about the ongoing impact for women’s trust in the healthcare system, instrumentalised by anti-vaccination narratives, which stems from the so-called Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s Hospital, for example. As societies, particularly settler societies like Aotearoa New Zealand grapple with our pasts, there is a very real need to talk about harms in the past – for example, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State and Church Care. Trust requires trustworthiness.  There is a very real sense that our long-term success in restoring eroded landscapes, scarred by the effects of colonisation is currently being undermined by the short-term impacts of processes which enable reflection, truth and reconciliation. The networks build on social contagion have provided places for people to locate their personal feelings of loss, of grievance, of uncertainty within a socio-political context that makes sense to them – but sadly works to undermine values of diversity, community, inclusion, and cohesion.

Mis- and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand continues to work to create shifts in Aotearoa’s social and political norms. Key mis- and disinformation producers affirm and promote an idea of the state that pulls away from progressive values of social inclusion, justice, and equity that are increasing in social and political discourse. Instead, they long for systems that promote New Zealand European identity, traditional gender roles, and a patriarchal family structure.

This sets a concerning precedent for Aotearoa New Zealand– something worth both acknowledging and working on to help resist and counter. These issues were not magically resolved following the dissolution of the Parliament Protest – mis- and disinformation and conspiratorial thought continues to impact the lives and actions of our communities. The ongoing implications of this, and for how Aotearoa New Zealand moves forward, should not be underestimated. The Parliament Protest has and will impact on Aotearoa New Zealand’s political and social norms. The divergent perceptions of the protest by protestors themselves and the subsequent splintering of narratives around provenance, purpose, and presentation – with profound implications for social cohesion, and the way difference is negotiated, online and offline.

Events of 6 January 2021 in the United States resulted from a lack of shared narratives: polling found that half of Republicans believe the storming of the Capitol was a non-violent protest, or the work of left-wing activists to discredit Trump.44 Further, 60% of Republicans believed the 2020 US Election was “stolen”.45 These beliefs have significant impacts for the way Americans interact, the way government operates, and beliefs in electoral integrity. Subsequent events – from ‘don’t’ say gay’ laws to the overturning of Roe vs Wade by the Supreme Court despite the majority of Americans supporting abortion rights are further undermining any shared narrative or social cohesion.

The pandemic has contributed to increased attention to ideas around social cohesion. A May 2020 report highlighted that at the time, Aotearoa New Zealand was experiencing high levels of social cohesion despite the pandemic but noted that social cohesion could deteriorate.[13]Subsequent analysis, including The Disinformation Project’s November 2021 report, and work led by Paul Spoonley in December 2021, made it clear that existing inequalities across education, health, and ethnicity threaten to undermine social cohesion and collective wellbeing.[14] [15]

A lack of shared narratives poses significant risks to memory-making. Contemporary myths are known by many names – conspiracy theories, fake news, and moral panics, but they all have implications for understandings, meaning making, and historical memory. This has impacts for Aotearoa New Zealand as we move forward from the Parliament Protest and shore up social cohesion. For Aotearoa New Zealand to operate within the democratic, inclusive, and progressive values many in this country celebrate, continued efforts towards social cohesion are required. Social cohesion relies on trust and cooperation between people with different values and identities.

Whose stories we listen to matters – I come from a long line of teachers and preachers, yearners and learners – and so for me there are key opportunities in the stories we highlight, the stories we choose to share, and the storytellers we listen to. From the roll out of the new history curriculum to the new shared holiday of Matariki, from the ways in which ANZAC Day in the 21st century is a shared commemoration of war and the impacts of war, and the value of peace that new New Zealanders embrace, remembering their own pasts, to the power of institutions for storytelling, like the critical role the Waitangi Tribunal holds in enabling stories of the past to be heard, I am hopeful that once we understand the landscape erosion, we can firm up our shared foundations to enable a restoration of health and wellbeing.

This must start with te Tiriti: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the partnership relationships the realisation of Tiriti justice enables, are the necessary starting point for any discussion or development of a strategy which seeks to address and make redress for the impacts of online harm, hateful and violent extremism, and disinformation for Aotearoa New Zealand. It is from a position of the partnership that Te Tiriti provides that Aotearoa can make a global contribution to these pressing and immediate issues.[16]

We have all lived through what we once innocently called unprecedented times. We have all experienced isolation, anxiety, disconnection, and grief. Those emotions and experiences will continue to shape us as people and as communities. But in naming the problem, we have the beginning of solutions: those splintered realities might suggest on one level divide. But we all share the experience of the pandemic, and as we slowly return into shared spaces beyond work and commerce, but back into community, we can tell stories and turn to trusted storytellers to examine how we can do so consciously. Our rugby clubs and RSAs, our community centres, our kura, our marae, our places of worship, our Rotary meetings, Federated Farmers meetings and our Māori Women’s welfare league meetings, our umpire training days, our libraries, galleries and museums – these third spaces where we enact community are spaces within which we have always negotiated our differences with respect and kindness, and where we have always come to validate new information and explore our commonalities.

These are the spaces – the third spaces – that we have missed in the last two years. We have kept up, using social media tools, with our close friends and whanau, we have engaged with social media and mainstream media to discover new information, and we have been connected, if we’re lucky, to work and school via online tools. What we have not been able to do is to go into third spaces and connect, explore our commonalities and differences within shared values, or to have the new information we’re come across validated or refuted within locations of trust.

Rights have always been limited by the extent to which they impact upon the rights of others – but the negotiation of this within the context of global erosion of landscapes and infoscapes by forces known and ignored has come to a kind of impasse. If the USA is now widely being described as no longer a democracy, but some kind of oligarchy, then what does that mean for both the global rights based framework and for ANZ?

How to balance free speech, the right to protest and dissent, the right to hold power to account, within the very real harms that can be perpetuated by those motivated to use these rights to attack the rights of others. How might we understand the differing local and global rights-based frameworks from He Whakaputanga, Te Tiriti, Universal Declaration, BORA – when we know that misuse – from paper terrorism to the chilling effect – is already taking place?

Often the answer is held up as education, civics or media literacy – but this is not enough. There has been a tendency towards complacency in open social democracies – and now it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost. What does shifting towards a more deliberative, discursive democratic idea of the state look like for Aotearoa? What more just and more democratic futures can we imagine? Starting from extending the franchise to those aged 16-18 might be just the ticket, since it is their futures that must be more just and more equal, with more care for each other and our common home.

We know that eroded landscapes and over-consumption of resources lead to the tragedy of the commons, where in a shared resource is no longer able to support the community to whom it belongs. We know that social networks are how we access social capital, form relationships, institute social norms, and implement social control. The norm-shifting we have observed and described over less than a year is testament to the morally motivated network effects online social contagion enabled, wherein death threats, vile crudity, and dangerous speech are now socially normal.

The internet can be a tool that contributes to erosion, but it can also be a tool we turn to build connection, mediate shared values, and post rosters for community gardens. If a socially cohesive society with concern for the common good is likely to be a healthier society; I’ll extend that now to say a socially cohesive society with concern for the common good will also be a society that has transparent and inclusive access to reliable information and knowledges and inclusive access to spaces within which to verify trust in that information, and to negotiate difference and commonality with respect and safety.  The effects of the social contagion I have described can only be mitigated through careful mahi – from grassroots to government – that operates to bring information to trusted places and people, and enables communities a pathway back into social cohesion based within te whare tapa wha.

It must start from justice. It must be intentional. But we must also re-assess our image of the other.  While kindness is a concept that has been overused, I do want to leave you now with this poem from Danusha Lameris[17]:

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

There is much to be done. But what is at stake is community, connectedness, tolerance, and democracy. So let’s roll our sleeves up, as Ōtepoti has demonstrated in recent days, and get to work.


[1] ”Anti-Mandate Protesters March across Auckland Harbour Bridge.” 2022,, Accessed 12/03/2022

[2] World Health Organisation. (2020a). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 13. World Health Organisation.



[5] McKinley E, Tuhiwai Smith L, Jackson M. In the end “The hope of decolonization”. In: McKinley E, Tuhiwai Smith L, eds. Handbook of Indigenous education. Springer, 2019: 101-10 doi:10.1007/978-981-10-3899-0_59

[6] Smylie J, Harris R, Paine S, Velásquez I A , Nimatuj, Lovett R et al. Beyond shame, sorrow, and apologies—action to address indigenous health inequities BMJ 2022; 378 :o1688 doi:10.1136/bmj.o1688

[7] The Dangerous Speech Project. Dangerous Speech: A Practical Guide: 19 April 2021

[8] Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research”, Journal of Peace Research 6, no. 3 (1969): 167- 191.

[9] United Nations. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, (1993)

[10] 8 Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence, Gender, and the Environmentalism of the Poor, (2011).

[11] Winter, Charlie et al. “Online Extremism: Research Trends in Internet Activism, Radicalization, and Counter-Strategies”, International Journal of Conflict and Violence, (2020).

[12] Davies, Thom. “Slow violence and toxic geographies: ‘Out of sight’ to whom?”, Politics and Space, (2019).

[13] Spoonley, Paul, Peter Gluckman, Anne Bardsley, Tracey McIntosh, Rangimarie Hunia, Sarb Johal, and Richie Poulton. “He Oranga Hou: Social Cohesion in a Post-Covid World.” Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures: University of Auckland, 2020.

[14] Gluckman, Peter, Anne Bardsley, Paul Spoonley, Charles Royal, Naomi Simon-Kumar, and Andrew Chen. “Sustaining Aotearoa New Zealand as a Cohesive Society.” Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures: University of Auckland, 2021.

[15] Hannah, Kate, Sanjana Hattotuwa, and Kayli Taylor. “Mis- and Disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand from 17 August to 5 November 2021.” Te Pūnaha Matatini, 2021.

[16] Hannah, Kate. “When Worlds Collide: Addressing Harm, Hateful and Violent Extremism, and Disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand” In He Whenua Taurika Hui, 2021.