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Better consultation needed for new Online Safety Code

By Shannon Williams, Thu 2 Dec 2021

Representatives from three organisations working to improve online safety in New Zealand say that a lack of significant community engagement around a new Code of Practice being developed for social media platforms may be set to fail the people it intends to help.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms, currently being developed by several transnational digital platforms and New Zealand’s non-profit online safety organisation NetSafe, is going for public consultation soon.

The voluntary industry code aims to provide a self-regulatory framework for improving users’ safety and reducing harmful content shared through digital platforms such as Meta (Facebook, Instagram), Google (YouTube), Microsoft, TikTok, Twitch and Twitter.

Local groups with an interest in online safety Tohatoha NZ, InternetNZ and the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective agree that online services can and should be taking responsibility for their impacts on our society, and societies around the world, but say that this means working with communities.

"The people whose voices matter most in regard to online safety are those who are most affected by the harmful behaviour this Code sets out to tackle," says Anjum Rahman, project co-lead for Inclusive Aotearoa Collective.

"The draft Code has been developed without equitable opportunities for people and communities to engage," she says.

"By focusing on in-depth input from tech platforms before coming to communities and individuals, it highlights the power imbalance with targeted communities," say Rahman.

"This could be perceived as a way for big online services to write rules that suit themselves, and avoid efforts at regulation," she says.

The groups note that the New Zealand government is currently scoping a review of content regulation and expressed concern that the Code may have a negative impact on democratic processes.

"To address serious issues like misinformation and hate speech, this Code will need broad buy-in from diverse communities across Aotearoa, particularly those most impacted by harmful behaviour online," says Mandy Henk, chief executive of Tohatoha NZ.

"The lack of significant community engagement so far means this Code may be set up to fail these people."

The group acknowledges that NetSafe is planning to offer consultation workshops in February 2022, and says these discussions should cover the substance of the Code, and how it could best operate in Aotearoa.

"The process should be inclusive and extend to communities that might not easily be reached," adds Jordan Carter, chief executive of InternetNZ.
"They need to be resourced and supported to participate at a level that matches the participation of the tech platforms."

The group is hopeful that NetSafe will be willing to work with their organisations and others in the community to achieve an internet that is not harmful to users, while remaining free, open and secure.

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