By Merepeka Raukawa-Tait

COMMENT:

I often wonder what sort of people sit most of the day in front of their computer screens and troll. It's been explained to me, because I didn't exactly know, that a troll is someone who aims to upset or start arguments on the internet by posting inflammatory messages.

They purposely look for something or someone to comment on and to air their opinions.

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Who on Earth finds that a meaningful pastime? Trolling can get very personal at times with tragic consequences.

My friend, former model and A listed Charlotte Dawson took it all to heart and ended her life five years ago. She was a beautiful and generous person but having people say they hate you over and over again must affect you.

What I can't understand is why people continue to look at that rubbish. I have always said what people think of me is not my business. As a politician I do get verbally knocked about from time to time. Stuff them I say. They're welcome to step up, get themselves elected and take on the job. Always looks easy from the outside, the reality is something quite different. I don't do social media, so I don't know if I've been trolled. My friends think I'm weird. That's because they live on social media.

I think the internet has spawned a whole class of "bush experts". People who profess to know serious stuff but in fact know very little about the subjects. No analysis or research. Just views and light weight opinions masquerading as informed intelligence. Look at all the recent comments on hate speech. Everyone knows what hate speech is. Not from what I've seen and heard.

Under our Bill of Rights Act 1990 we have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and distribute information and opinions of any kind in any form. These can be offensive and controversial, but still an opinion. I like to think well informed and reasonable people will reflect on and see through these.

Hate speech is prohibited in New Zealand under section 61 of the Human Rights Act. The words in the statute are very specific: it is unlawful for anyone to publish or distribute threatening, abusive or insulting words likely to incite hostility or bring into contempt any person or group of persons. We have the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 too. This provides some protection against hate speech. Harmful is defined as meaning "serious emotional distress" caused by posting a digital communication.

Hate is nothing new in New Zealand. We have history as a confrontational, abusive society. Look at our high level of tolerance to the abuse of women and children. We have been world leaders in this area for decades. Bullying is rife in our workplaces and suicide, often as a result of bullying and intimidation, is sadly no longer uncommon. We sit on our hands and continue to bewail and wonder how on Earth we ended up in this state? Perhaps it's because we think nastiness and ugly is somehow acceptable. Because for years we have lacked the courage to speak up and tackle abuse in all its forms - convinced ourselves it doesn't do any real harm. Not when you're not on the receiving end it doesn't.

In general, I find New Zealanders pretty gutless when it comes to using offensive, insulting or defamatory language and behaviour towards others. We hide behind keyboards, nom-deplumes and divisive motivated groups instead of fronting and debating the issues we feel strongly about. We lack the courage and skills to openly carry an argument face to face.

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The internet provides us a platform to remain, if not anonymous at least at arm's length. We can fling hurtful and hateful remarks about with impunity. Whether to silent dissent or to threaten, intimidate and insult. Social media is just another tool in the abuser's tool kit. It's getting pretty crowded with enough tools to cause the haemorrhaging of ugly, nasty and hateful comments and opinions we see growing daily.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.
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