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Big Tech acting on the anti-social . . .


The clampdown on social-media sites advocating violence has reached New Zealand but is it a case of too little, too late — and where do you draw the line?

Both Twitter and Facebook have removed thousands of accounts including some in New Zealand which have been active for years.

It has prompted a dispute between the need for censorship and civil liberties, with former National leader Simon Bridges taking the side of those opposing the blanket bans.

Bridges tweeted the suspension of NZ Twitter accounts was an over-reaction. This was not about whether anyone agreed with what the users were saying, he said. It was about freedom of speech, and pushing views underground was more dangerous than letting them be out in the open.

But New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties chairman Thomas Beagle has told Morning Report he did not entirely agree with Bridges. He said there was a difference between harmful ideas, and harassment and threats of violence.

The rapid growth of social media use has been a transformational development that has benefitted millions. People have been able to connect easily with friends and family, and to achieve great results promoting worthwhile causes.

But there have also been many negative outcomes and hidden within the world of social media are some dark undercurrents — like the traction it has provided to conspiracy theories like QAnon, which says a cabal of satanic paedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring and is plotting against Donald Trump.

Then there are the far-right sites used by people like the Christchurch mosque shooter which led to Jacinda Ardern getting world leaders to support the Christchurch Call.

The present banning efforts have arisen because of Trump's use of social media to arouse the demonstrators who broke into Washington's Capitol building which led to five deaths, although Trump claims he did not advocate violence.

However, Trump was a skilful user of Twitter which he used to bypass traditional media outlets which might question him. He was able to make untrue statements, with fact-checking only being introduced comparatively recently.

A review of what is contained on social media is long overdue, and the algorithms and artificial intelligence these sites have employed to such effect mean it should not be too Herculean a task to locate dangerous content across the vastness of the internet.