“This is your home and you should have been safe here”

Jordan Carter29 March 2019
A blog post from Jordan Carter, Chief Executive of InternetNZ 

I keep coming back to the phrase, and the haunting drawing to which the phrase was attached, as I reflect on the terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch two weeks ago. The Muslim communities of New Zealand’s garden city were viciously attacked. 

Their response: as-salamu alaykum — peace be with you. Heartbreaking, dignified, powerful. Kiwis of all sorts have rallied around to reject the attacker’s goal of spreading hate and division, and mounting the case that through all of the beautiful diversity of our communities, there are not an “other” and an “us”. 

As a different political leader said in a different time, “there is no them and us — there is only us” — a sentiment I have been hanging on to as the emotions and work of the past two weeks has come and gone. 

Yet, there isn’t only us. A community was attacked because of their faith. Because of the visibility of difference. 

Holding in our hearts and our heads both sentiments — that we are one human family, and that there are differences that mark some out for discrimination, fear, hate, and terroristic murder — is something we are now learning to do here. 

So through the sorrow, anger and other emotions of this past two weeks, and following today’s National Memorial events, it feels like the conversation is beginning to turn.

Our team has kept fairly quiet, but now that the country’s focus is starting to turn to the response we must make, so must ours. 

InternetNZ does have a part to play in that response, for a number of reasons. Here are a few of them.

  • We know the Internet, its possibilities and limitations — and some of the policy and political debates following the Christchurch attacks will be about the Internet, and particularly about the role of social media platforms and the diffusion of video and textual information related to the attacks. A voice of expertise will be needed at the table.
  • This act of terrorism used social media platforms - a core part of most people’s world online - to magnify its impact. Others, in different ways, have faced this impact before - but now it is close to home for us. Exploring what needs to change on these platforms, and in the legal environment that applies to them, is going to be a debate that runs for some time. 
  • New Zealand’s ability to respond in a legislative or regulatory way is limited because of our small scale and size — and yet, we have a unique responsibility to do what we can because of what has happened. 

There is another reason, a little closer to home. 

We have been passionate advocates for the open Internet ever since we were founded in the 1990s. 

For some people, an open Internet is a Wild West of unlimited control, anything-goes content. Respect for law is absent. Limits to free expression are always bad. Copyright is always wrong. Blocking or censorship is always a short step away from an overmighty state and an attack on human freedom and wellbeing. 

That is not what openness means for us. It is not the Internet we need in 2019. It wasn’t before the terrorist attack and it isn’t afterwards. The Internet is part of society. The rights that people have offline are rights they should enjoy online, and we as a community and as a country, should make that as real as we can. 

The open Internet is a marvellous force for innovation and change. The way it is built means new services and inventions can flourish without a centralised approval being required. 

None of those benefits are limited in any way by the democratic choices a country makes about the acceptable limits of human expression. When the Chief Censor says a video is objectionable material and must not be distributed, it must not be distributed - end of story. 

Openness, security and free expression are not contradictory so long as none of them are taken to extremes. It is time to take a long hard look at how the technology sector is playing a part in making sure that balance is designed in a way that nurtures and sustains the community, the country and the world. 

So a broad debate is coming — of that there is no doubt. Many things will be on the table. The limits of free expression. How to confront and defeat hate and fear. The role and responsibility of social media platforms. Encryption policy. The rights and powers of the security services. Social change to better sustain our multicultural society. How the world works together to make the Internet a force for good. 

Where these debates involve the Internet, we will be there. We’ll be there as a voice for the reality of the Internet today, and the promise of the Internet tomorrow. 

That is how we will help New Zealanders harness the power of the Internet for good. 

And for now, we share the sorrows of the country at what happened on 15 March, and the hope that we can be better tomorrow. 

Let’s do our part, in the Internet and technology world, to make this home safe for all. 
InternetNZ is the home of .nz, and we’ve been thinking about how we exercise responsible management of .nz domain names in light of what has happened. Brent Carey, the Domain Name Commissioner, has shared some information about the Domain Name Commission’s work in response to the attacks.