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Ardern mulls NZ’s role on social media reform

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is consulting personally about the role New Zealand could play internationally to get a "step-change in behaviour" by global social media companies when it comes to their sponsorship of extremism, disinformation, election manipulation and hate speech.

She met last weekend with a group of people she said represented "those who work in this space" in New Zealand, in a personal capacity. The group had no status and she would check before releasing their names, but the meeting was "very much for me at a personal level", she told her weekly post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington.

"I’m being asked a number of questions around what happened on the 15th of March, the particular role of social media", including "what our ask should be at an international level".

New Zealand has grabbed global attention because of the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch, both for the 50 deaths of Muslims at prayer and for the country's and Ardern's resolute response to it, including swift action on gun law reform and the promise of hate speech legislation shortly.

Ardern said it was less clear how to respond on the social media question.

"Questions are being raised about the role New Zealand could and should play in this debate and at an international level.

"My strong view is that if we wish to establish a step-change in behaviour that we need to take a global approach," she said. "It’s all well and good to have domestic legislation that we think’s going to do the trick, but in my view it would be all the more strengthened if we had the international community asking the same thing. That’s something that I’m interested in."

She cited the UK, Ireland, Germany and France all as countries taking strong approaches to regulation and punishment of social media companies that failed to control hateful and extremist content posted by its users. Australia is also rushing through similar laws.

"None are exactly the same," said Ardern. "My question here would be: do those legislative tools answer the questions and challenges that we faced through the 15th of March. If they don’t, what more should we ask, and should we be asking it together?"

Ardern said the government had received representations from Facebook, which livestreamed video of the attacks, enabling its viral propagation elsewhere on-line, but could not recall whether there had been personal representations from its founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

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