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Misinformation Challenge Demands A More Effective Response

Yesterday a report was released that shines a light on New Zealanders’ concerns about misinformation online. A stronger response from all parts of New Zealand society and government is needed to tackle this challenge (and related ones) effectively.

The Classification Office has undertaken research to understand the perceptions of misinformation and what influence it is having on New Zealanders. The Edge of the Infodemic: Challenging Misinformation in Aotearoa.

The Chief Executive of InternetNZ, Jordan Carter, says real harms can come from misinformation.

"This research adds to the base of insight available to everyone who is concerned about the problem of misinformation, and I thank the Classification Office for conducting it.

"When we are dealing with a global pandemic, misinformation is a challenge in that it could contradict scientific health advice about dealing with the virus and the vaccine roll-out. People’s lives can be put at risk as a result.

"We’re seeing many instances where misinformation is having a significant impact and COVID-19 is just one of them.

"Misinformation is connected to other online harms - harms that extend into people’s lives day to day. A particularly appalling example is the more visible wave of online hate and violent extremism targeted towards marginalised communities here in New Zealand. The harm this content is having on our communities is serious and cannot be ignored.

The research from the Classifications Office has helped to show the significant impact misinformation is having and how worried New Zealanders are about it. We also know that this problem is quickly rising. InternetNZ research, released in March this year, showed an 8% rise in the number of New Zealanders that are ‘extremely concerned’ that the Information on the Internet is misleading or wrong (22% of New Zealanders - up from 14% the year before).

In the report from the Classifications Office, it states that 84% of New Zealanders expressed support for specific groups or organisations to take action. This is a clear statement that New Zealanders want to see change.

"New Zealand needs to make strides in order to better respond to misinformation online," says Carter.

"We would like to see the Government take responsibility for tackling this challenge more effectively than today.

"I urge the Government to consider naming a Minister and function responsible for joining up the work in this area. That would be a start.

"A critical focus must be on incorporating the voices and perspectives of those facing the worst effects of these problems. Effective Government leadership can help make this happen.

"This work needs to go beyond what the public service can do alone. We need to see government funding and working with other groups both online and in the community to find solutions.

"Turning to the platforms, they need to put more resources into quickly finding and removing content and user accounts that blatantly breach their own terms of service. Communities and our country deserve more than we are seeing today.

"Finding solutions won't be easy, but we all have a part to play. Government, online platforms, civil society, and the community need to work together to find solutions to minimise harm to us all.

"We welcome this research from the Classifications Office and hope it can serve as more evidence that we must act now, says Carter.

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