On March 15, 2019, the internet was weaponised as part of the terrorist attacks on
the Muslim communities of Christchurch.
The hurt and harm to people in the mosques, their family and friends, and the wider social impact, are where much of the focus will rightly be as the anniversary arrives.
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In the aftermath, we at InternetNZ were involved with some of the internet aspects. It is not the most important aspect - that's the people attacked and how we deal with the intent behind the terrorism - but it is the aspect that we know.
It began with our call for a considered approach to any government policymaking arising from the attacks. This has largely come to pass.
The Government made some immediate tangible changes, for instance, in gun law. Some short-term internet policy changes are coming, after Cabinet made some decisions late last year for changes to the censorship regime and tabled a broader review of media law and online content.
We don't agree with all those changes, but they were not an immediate hasty response to the attacks, and that is good for the internet.
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A second aspect was the need for wider action than just New Zealand law to affect the platform companies where most of the online material was shared. We are not a big enough country for our laws to drive change in companies as big as Facebook and Google. The Christchurch Call was how this played out, a coalition of countries demanding changes to how harmful content is dealt with, and how better to manage any future such crisis. That work is ongoing, and progress has been made in some areas (crisis response) although not in others (algorithms).
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A third area was the need to involve civil voices in these internet policy debates.
We have advocated to the Government for wider involvement, and we were privileged to help in Paris at the summit agreeing the Christchurch Call.
Helping convene the "Voices for Action" event in Paris and supporting civil society input into it was hard, but worthwhile, work. We were pleased to have played an influential role in increasing that civil society engagement since then, with civil society representatives from around the world and New Zealand gaining seats at the table in the discussions, including at the UN General Assembly session on the Christchurch Call in New York later in 2019.
There is more to do domestically in making sure there are effective voices in the policy debate this year and beyond, but some progress is being made.
This led to analysing what could have been done with the .nz domain name space if it had been directly used to propagate the content from Christchurch.
As a response, we have an emergency framework to allow us to respond if there is a future similar situation. I believe that's the responsible approach. When a crisis happens, we have to be able to act, in the public interest and on the instigation of the appropriate authorities.
The work New Zealand did around the Christchurch Call has had a direct impact in nudging the companies to do better. The process of doing it has raised New Zealand's profile in global internet policy debates. As a country, we have a responsibility to use that for good. InternetNZ can and will follow in that path.
More broadly, the events sparked conversations I hadn't heard before: about the role and responsibility of internet platforms; and about how we preserve a "free, open and secure internet" (Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's words) while making sure it is better suited to the realities of life in the 2020s and beyond.
We've responded by putting the concept of an "internet for good" at the heart of our effort over the next few years. This will sit alongside our "internet for all" work to bring about better digital inclusion in New Zealand.
In essence, an internet for good will be about our country playing a more active role in shaping the internet's future. We can bring a unique experience and cultural inheritance to this work as a country. But we aren't doing that today.
We should also be thinking about how to draw together community views about what an "internet for good" is. How is it different from today's internet?
The internet has had a huge and growing impact on society over the past 10 years. How society deals with those impacts is a growing challenge. When we get the balance right, we enjoy better outcomes for all. When we get it wrong, harms will multiply and trust will erode.
We want to be part of getting it right - and I hope you do, too.
• Jordan Carter is the chief executive of InternetNZ, the designated manager of the .nz domain name space.
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