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From the Chair: Taking a stand

29 March 2019 | news

In the past two weeks we’ve seen some of the worst and the best of humanity in the events of and response to the terror attacks in Christchurch.

Through the appalling acts of an individual, 50 lives were taken. But his aim of promoting discord and hatred has failed. New Zealanders have reacted overwhelmingly with kindness and compassion.

We need to do more, however. The social media platforms used to spread the ideas and actions of the Christchurch terrorist still need to make an adequate response with corrective measures to prevent similar injurious use of their system.

New Zealand’s universities are joining the Privacy Commissioner and major corporate advertisers in calling for more effective regulation of and responsiveness from social media platforms.

Social media platforms perform a valuable service—universities use them widely to engage with our students and stakeholders. In the aftermath of Christchurch, they have been used positively to build a sense of community and offer support to those mourning.

However, as diverse places of learning that work hard to make sure students from all walks of life and backgrounds feel welcome, we believe our students, staff and communities want us to point out the issues and stand for positive change.

Over the past two weeks, New Zealand’s eight universities ceased advertising through Facebook and other social media platforms to emphasise the need for faster take-down times for videos like the one that circulated for too long after the shootings.

We urge companies to take action on several of the proposals that would improve social media management of posted material: requiring all posted videos to be tagged—making it quick and easy to track and remove copies wherever they are subsequently shared and posted; providing local monitoring of live feeds with local moderators able to quickly remove offensive content.

We also encourage the Government to take steps in this space. The Harmful Digital Communications Act could be made more applicable to content hosts as well as to uploaders. Acceptable timeframes (eg, a maximum of 24 hours) could be mandated to assess and remove injurious content.

The universities of New Zealand make up a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity in staff and students. We have lost members of our community and are supporting many others who will continue to be affected by the terrorist acts at the Christchurch mosques, and the associated social media content.

We want our international student community to know that all our universities are doing everything possible to support their students and to ensure campuses remain safe.

We will continue to stand firm with members of our Muslim community and to offer support to those who want it.

And we will continue to ask for changes to be made to curtail the platforms used to spread hate and discord.

At times such as this, we are reminded of the importance of recognising the family of humanity.  We are all connected by far more than whatever might seem to separate us. Let’s continue to work to promote that connection.