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Independent Human Rights Report Highlights Ways To Improve Online Safety Code

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission today released an independent report which explains how to improve the Code of Practice that Meta, Google, Tiktok, Twitch and X have developed to guide their management of online harm in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Throughout my time as Chief Commissioner, I have been alarmed by the escalating harm many individuals and communities are facing online”, says Te Amokapua Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

“We’re talking about harms, from pervasive online bullying, to the spread of disinformation and child pornography. Our current legislation in New Zealand needs review and reform.”

The Chief Commissioner chaired an independent accountability group over a three-month period, featuring six independent experts ranging from academia to community organisations focused on reducing online harm.

“This strong group included lived experience of online harm, technical knowledge, as well as a deep understanding of how online harm affects communities in Aotearoa”, says Hunt.

“We look forward to hearing how the new government plans to put in place a human rights compliant regulatory framework that protects everyone in New Zealand from dangerous online harm”, Hunt added.

But the primary focus of the group was how Meta, Google, Tiktok, Twitch and X could improve the Code of Practice they agreed last year.

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The five signatory digital platforms contributed to the Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms, alongside Netsafe, before signing it in 2022. It is a voluntary code administered by NZTech.

The Chief Commissioner says the independent group acknowledges the signatories, as well as NZTech and Netsafe, for their role in developing the voluntary code which is a welcome initiative.

“Internationally this Code of Practice is receiving praise and, given it was authored with the digital platforms, it’s crucial there is independent scrutiny of whether it meets the human rights responsibilities of companies and whether it suitably applies te Tiriti o Waitangi”, says Hunt.

All businesses have human rights responsibilities, as laid out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“We want to help the digital platforms deliver their human rights responsibilities for the benefit of everyone in Aotearoa,” says the Chief Commissioner.

The group's report says the Code of Practice would be improved if it had a more detailed and nuanced appreciation of the country’s historical, demographic, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and legal context.

The group acknowledges that the Code refers to te Tiriti o Waitangi but says it should be made clearer how the articles of te Tiriti are integrated into the work of the signatory companies, and those responsible for the Code’s oversight and administration.

The report explains that the Code falls short of a similar initiative developed in Europe. The group says that one way of improving the Code is by ensuring its standards are not lower than those agreed by the Code’s signatories in other countries.

Given international interest in the Code of Practice, the Commission will be submitting the group’s report to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights for their consideration.

Earlier this year, the Commission published a human rights briefing on the communication revolution which is sweeping the world.

The group’s report takes a step further and outlines a human rights and te Tiriti approach to ensure the technology does not erode, but deepens, our democracy.

“There’s a long way to go and we hope the government and companies will do everything they can to improve online safety for everyone in New Zealand,” says Hunt.

Independent Accountability Group Members

Tina Ngata, Independent Researcher, Environmental, Indigenous and Human Rights Advocate

Gareth Jones, Project Co-Lead, Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono

Anjum Rahman, Founder and Project Co-Lead, Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono

Steven Ratuva, Pro-Vice Chancellor Pacific, Distinguished Professor, Director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury

Kate Hannah, Founder and Director, The Disinformation Project

Scout Barbour-Evans, Director, Te Kahukura Puāwai

Paul Hunt, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

Comments from Members

Tina Ngata

“The value of independent oversight on matters of human rights and social media cannot be overstated at this juncture of history. This has been a very worthwhile opportunity to demonstrate how human rights may be protected in a locally relevant and robust fashion. I look forward to seeing how the work of the Independent Accountability Group contributes to further developments in the crafting of an accountable, safe, and just online environment.”

Anjum Rahman

"Online harm is impacting the well-being of many people. Our hope with this report is to improve any processes put in place to ensure that te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations are fulfilled and human rights are upheld both within the wording of the Code of Practice and the structures in place to implement it. Accountability and transparency are crucial for any system dealing with harm."

Kate Hannah

“The Code of Practice is a new initiative which relies on self-regulation from social media platforms; it is critical that its efficacy for Aotearoa is tested and developed in collaboration with those who came together to establish the Code. The pilot Independent Accountability Group should be one of many ways in which New Zealand explores what’s fit for purpose."

Scout Barbour-Evans

“No single person, government or corporation is exempt from the responsibility to uphold our collective human rights. I’m excited to see what broader work our report will lead to.”

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