Spark and Vodafone were planning to end their post-Christchurch website blocking last night but extended it after government intervention.

"There was no formal government directive, but after consultations we agreed to extend it until the weekend," Spark spokesman Andrew Pirie told the Herald.

Both Pirie and a counterpart at Vodafone labelled the site blocking "an extreme move under extreme circumstances."

A number of sites that are popular for gamers or sharing memes have been blocked because they've also hosted attack footage.

Advertisement

Pirie said the government broadly appreciated that such a high level of censorship could not continue, but on the telcos' side they came to a consensus that it could be continued for a few more days.

For Vodafone, Richard Llewellyn said, "A few days ago industry reached the point where we agreed we needed to cease our extreme temporary measures to block websites and revert to usual operating procedures. Vodafone were intending to start the process of unblocking sites last night. We are now holding off for a few more days, after further consultation with Government."

Neither company would name the who in government they were talking to, but Llewellyn said, "we have been consulting widely."

"It is not appropriate for broadband providers to block sites indefinitely, no matter how abhorrent we or the vast majority of our customers might regard such content," Llewellyn said.

"The reality is determined and tech-savvy users will always be able to find such abhorrent content if they wish. This has indeed been the case since Friday 15th, despite our best efforts to block access."

Llewellyn said in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, there was "far too much "click first and think later'."

Now, however, with the Chief Censor confirming the gunman's clip and manifesto is banned (meaning major fines or even jail are in the offing for those who view or share it), and people having time to reflect, mainstream New Zealanders were no longer seeking out the content.

2degrees spokesman Mat Bolland said his company continued to site-block so had not been contacted by the government. As things stand, it plans to unblock next week.

A spokesman for Vocus (which include Orcon and Slingshot) says, "We are still blocking these sites through our Family Filter service, and have no intention of removing them at this stage."

Between them, Spark, Vodafone, Vocus and 2degrees control more than 90 per cent of broadband connections.

No response to open letter

After the Christchurch shootings, Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees sent an open letter to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube-owner Google, asking them to do more to clamp down on inappropriate content.

"it is disappointing that our chief executives have not yet received a formal response from our open letter last week, reinforcing the widely held view that these platforms do not take their civic responsibilities to prevent objectionable content being uploaded seriously enough."

A wider discussion needs to take place, Llewellyn said.

The government has indicated it will take a stronger line on social media, but has yet to detail any new measures.

Attorney-General David Parker declined comment earlier this week, but in comments made shortly before March 15, he indicated freedom-of-expression would come into play.

"Where does the limit lie between freedom of speech and harmful fake news or hateful propaganda?," Parker asked at the recent swearing in of Justice Helen Winklemann as Chief Justice

"What duties are owed by those who profit from social media platforms to society, private citizens, or to the public institutions which democracy relies on?"