Council report back - August 2021 meeting
Joy Liddicoat President and Jay Daley Vice President •
The first meeting of the InternetNZ Council following the 2021 AGM was held in Wellington on Friday 13 August 2021. We agreed to communicate our discussion and a number of key matters arising from the meeting.
Council formally acknowledged Councillor Amber Craig, thanking her for her many contributions to Council including as Chair of Audit and Risk Committee. We also acknowledged Councillor Hīria Te Rangi, her contribution to Council and the .nz policy Committee. Council thanked both Councillors for their work, with Councillor Sarah Lee, to develop the proposal for a Māori Design Group that was approved unanimously by Council in May.
This report-back also shares the outcome of Council’s discussions and views developed with the assistance of the staff. We welcome feedback on it, direct to Council members (who will share feedback among the Council) or on the member forums (members-discuss email or #members-chat on NetHub Slack). Feedback will help to inform the Council’s deliberations in a strategy session being held in mid-September, and decisions at the subsequent meeting in mid-October.
The substantive part of this report-back will also be published on the organisation’s blog later in the week, given public interest in the issues raised.
InternetNZ has recently been criticised for:
- Refusing to acknowledge systemic racism within the organisation, primarily directing this criticism towards the Council and the membership.
- Not raising its voice strongly enough in opposing or calling out dangerous speech and the increasing visibility of extremist content being directed at marginalised communities, particularly wāhine Māori, including some members of our organisation.
- A lack of membership diversity.
- A lack of commitment to honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, failing to recognise the need to build effective relationships with tangata whenua and to embed engagement with Te Ao Māori in the organisation.
We take these criticisms seriously and as a Council we are committed to responding to them effectively with a new approach.
A commitment to identifying, and removing, systemic racism
Systemic racism is the concept that the ways things are done in a society or an organisation are organised in a way that disadvantages people and groups of people based on their race. It is a form of discrimination and racism in any form is unacceptable to InternetNZ.
Systemic racism within our organisation at any level needs to be brought to light, and the systems involved changed so that they protect and promote the human rights of all. The Council acknowledges the reality of systemic racism in Aotearoa and in our organisation. We need to change our organisation to tackle and eliminate it.
To do so we are planning a full, independent review of governance, membership and operational processes to report on what needs to change. We will scope this work with the intention of approving a start in October. Our intention is to begin with governance and membership processes, but subsequently to review operational processes as well. This work will undoubtedly discover good practice and problematic practice, and by doing it transparently and acting on the findings, we will strengthen our work and our organisation.
Learning to work differently and better
Alongside the review on systemic racism, new training and information for Council members and staff will be organised. This will deepen the organisation’s knowledge and awareness of te Tiriti o Waitangi, systemic racism and how to remove it, sensitivity in a range of cultural contexts, and the broader aspects of diversity and inclusion in Aotearoa’s diverse society and how we, as an organisation, need to do our work in order to genuinely be more inclusive.
In addition, the Council will be focusing some attention on its own governance culture. Our determination is to build a culture where these sorts of concerns are raised, they are effectively dealt with at the time - and people do not feel they have to solve them on their own, nor that leaving the Council is necessary.
A Te Tiriti honouring organisation
InternetNZ has made small, practical steps along the road towards starting to honour te Tiriti, but it has never set out a vision of what that means for the organisation, or what its commitment to this work is. That needs to change.
The recently established Māori Design Group is a key aspect in our work to change this situation. The Group is made up of leading professionals in their fields, and deep mana and authority relating to Te Ao Māori, tikanga and te Tiriti. The Council acknowledges and thanks them in advance for the mahi to come.
A key point of dialogue between the organisation and the Group will be how to shape the organisation - its culture, its structure, its strategy and its operations - so that it can consciously, authentically and effectively honour te Tiriti.
Council has reaffirmed its commitment to the Māori Design Group. We reaffirmed our work to understand and deepen our engagement with Te Ao Māori. We identified the need for a formal plan of Council readiness for this Group, agreeing that Council has work to do between now and October when we meet with them. This work includes understanding InternetNZ’s history and previous approaches.
Saying no to dangerous speech & improving the online harm system
Dangerous speech is any form of expression that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or participate in violence against members of another group. There is evidence that in Aotearoa, there is a more visible wave of online hate and violent extremism targeted towards marginalised communities, and particularly towards Māori, and even more particularly towards wāhine Māori with moko kauae. There is also evidence that it is growing in spread and intensity.
This speech, this abuse, is not ‘mean words’. This is expression that actively torments people and puts them in fear of their safety or their lives, or their family, or can even extend to existential threats towards Māori as an entire people.
InternetNZ unreservedly and totally condemns speech of this sort, as well as the precursor forms of harmful speech that can lead to dangerous speech.
The Internet should be a force for good, but in speech of this sort, the Internet is being used for serious and malicious harm, which is a violation of human rights.
Yet the systems that our country has put in place to tackle this problem have clearly failed the people who most need them to work. There are many problems within the institutional, policy and legal frameworks in this area. Worse, the approach our country is taking has not been built with the voices of those most affected driving and shaping it.
So people are, as a result, being harmed - and the system is failing them - and this must change.
Organisations like Police, DIA and NetSafe, have the legal role and the moral responsibility to effectively tackle these matters. But we have heard they are not meeting the needs of people who need them the most.
Council resolved that InternetNZ needs to take a leadership role to fill the current gap. Council’s view is that the system has failed and needs a review capable of leading to substantive institutional, policy, legal and operational changes. It may even need new or changed institutions.
As we consider our leadership role, our primary call is that the same human rights we have offline must apply online. Any review process must be independent of the agencies that have systemically failed to deliver a system that works, and that the process puts those most affected - consider wāhine Māori, people from Muslim communities, people from the LGBTIQ+ communities and more - at the heart of the process.
InternetNZ itself is not at the stage of contemplating an operational role to tackle dangerous speech on the Internet, but we will do what we can with the influence and tools that we have, to help with this problem. This will be a key focus for Council in the year ahead.
Listening and hearing to guide our next steps
The issues raised in recent months show that we need to provide a process for meaningful dialogue where people can express themselves, be heard and listened to. We will be reflecting on how to instigate a process of this sort in the coming weeks, and we will have more to say after our October Council meeting.
Acknowledging a new beginning
InternetNZ has helped to make the Internet better, but the events of recent months have shown that we need to change to grow into being able to deliver our purpose more fully.
Acknowledging and working on the challenges outlined here is going to lead to significant change for our organisation and our membership community. This will be change for the better, and our organisation and our community will be stronger as we do it.
The Council acknowledges the harm and hurt that many have felt in dealing with our organisation recently and historically. Whether it is in failing to be part of tackling the harms the modern Internet has allowed, or simply not seeing the needs that people faced - through actions or inaction - harms have been done.
The scale of problems such as online hate, have shown us that the values of our founding, as a technology focused organisation defending an Internet of “open and uncapturable” imagination, are not a sufficient framework to take us into this decade and beyond. If we wish to honour te Tiriti o Waitangi, honour Aotearoa’s diverse communities, and make the Internet a force for good, we need to dig back to values and update them, to be effective and relevant.
Much has to be done so that we can more fully live up to the role we aspire to, summoned up by the whakataukī Takawai Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Rangitihi and Ngāti Hinekura) gifted our organisation in 2017:
Kua rāranga tahi tātou he whāriki ipurangi mō āpōpō
Together we weave the mat, in terms of the Internet, for future generations.
Report was by Joy Liddicoat, InternetNZ President and Jay Daley, InternetNZ Vice President, on behalf of the InternetNZ Council.