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New Zealanders want crackdown on social media companies

Most New Zealanders want social media companies to be liable for exposing users to harm and think that Big Tech isn't doing enough to control extremist content online, according to a new survey

InternetNZ's annual Internet Insights study found a large majority of Kiwis surveyed supported a crackdown on social media companies. Questions around the liability of social media companies for exposing their users to harm and the proliferation of extremist content online were asked for the first time in this year's study, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

The survey found 71 percent of people agreed that New Zealand "should implement legal consequences for social media companies who expose their users to harm" and just 14 percent disagreed. Meanwhile, 61 percent disagreed that "social media companies are doing a good job of controlling extremist content online", while 15 percent agreed.

InternetNZ's study also reported that 53 percent of New Zealanders are extremely or very concerned that the internet "is a forum for extremist material and hate speech" and another 29 percent said they were "a little bit concerned". Just 3 percent are not at all concerned. This ranked as the seventh highest concern for Kiwis, behind fears around children accessing inappropriate content, cyberbullying and identity theft but ahead of misinformation and lack of access in poor or rural areas.

Findings come as Government gets to work

Andrew Cushen, InternetNZ's engagement director, told Newsroom that these numbers showed "there is still work to be done here in terms of public expectation".

He also explained that these concerns may have ranked seventh because they are relatively new. "These other concerns have a consistent narrative around them in this country, around cyberbullying, security of private data and online crime. They've been part of our consciousness and part of how we respond and manage our lives online for some time."

"Straight off the block, that a new issue in terms of terrorism and violent extremism online is already receiving concern from a majority of respondents, I think is notable."

These findings come after Newsroom reported last week that the Government will reform the country's censorship regime, making it illegal to livestream objectionable content, granting certain agencies the ability to issue take-down notices to websites and fine non-compliant sites, and introducing a system for the creation of internet filters.

However, the Government has been reluctant to take harsh measures against Big Tech firms like Facebook and Google, saying instead that it could get better results through cooperation. The Christchurch Call, a non-binding commitment from heads of state and social media companies to "eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online", is the country's centrepiece in this work.

The Call is helping to reform the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an industry group formed in 2017 to stop the misuse of online platforms by terrorists. Networks set up by the Christchurch Call were used to prevent the spread of the livestream of an October synagogue shooting in Germany, with a measure of success.

Christchurch Call little known

However, when polled by InternetNZ, just 20 percent of Kiwi respondents said they had heard of the Christchurch Call. Of those who did, 80 percent "understood one or more aspects of the Christchurch Call".

"I was surprised that only 20 percent had heard of the Christchurch Call. That's an indicator of how what is essentially a diplomatic and multinational initiative is tricky for the everyday New Zealander to embrace at a conceptual level," Cushen said.

The most recognised aspects were prevent hate speech and crime online, monitoring of social media content by providers, eliminating racist and extremist content online and responding to the March 15 attack.

Cushen said the high numbers of Kiwis concerned about these issues showed that, "while the Christchurch Call itself is not necessarily of high visibility to New Zealanders, the real issues behind it in terms of social media's responsibilities to its users and the unfortunate and horrible events in Christchurch are important to New Zealanders."

"That'll be a big theme during 2020 as the domestic policy landscape catches up and really, New Zealanders are looking for answers to those questions."

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