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Solutions could lie in indigenous thinking and values

No one’s exercise of free speech should make another feel less free.”- Moana Jackson

One of the most significant themes to emerge in this research was the need to attend not just to individualised concerns (e.g. individual rights and privacy) but also to collective dynamics and wellbeing. Therefore any policies that are developed to protect people online and ensure their ability to participate freely and safely online need to have at their centre indigenous and collectivist thinking, especially as Māori have historically (and presently) been among those who are most targeted by hateful speech.

Constitutional lawyer and justice researcher Moana Jackson points out:

“The right to free speech [in New Zealand]… has too often meant the freedom to hurt, despise, and belittle Māori. Cartoons published a few years ago depicting fat and lazy Māori taking advantage of free school lunches were found by the court to be objectively offensive but protected by free speech and the fact that they weren’t offensive enough to incite a “reasonable person” to hatred or violence against our people.”

In response to national debate about free speech vs hate speech, Doctoral student in Theology and Religion at Otago University, Graham Cameron writes about the idea of whakawhanaungatanga instead of censorship.

Whakawhanaungatanga means to build familial connections with others, the relationships that bind us together, our social contract. He argues that defending the rights of racist or sexist people to say whatever they want is implicitly defending their ‘right’ to damage our communities and relationships. Therefore, limiting people’s ability to be sexist and racist is less about censorship and more about upholding whanaungatanga.

To illustrate the difference in the Māori and Western/Pākehā worldviews when it comes to the power of speech, we point to two different whakataukī or proverbs. The first in English: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The idea that speech cannot hurt a person. The second in Māori: “He tao rākau, e taea te karo; he tao kōrero, e kore e taea te karo” or “The taiaha can be parried aside but words go straight to the heart.”

In the Māori world, a culture steeped in oral tradition, words create worlds and words matter.

Samoan author Lani Wendt Young, who has received horrific amounts of online abuse, says:

“The public shaming associated with online abuse is amplified many times over when you are Samoan… Because an attack on the individual is an attack on the extended family. ”

Our human rights, hate speech and communications laws need to acknowledge collectivist cultures and prioritise collective wellbeing-based solutions.

Māori digital rights advocate Karaitiana Taiuru says that two Māori values in particular could help support those who build the technology that permeates so much of our lives to build tools for a safer, better internet. Manaakitanga (How can we build tools that encourage users to show each other care and compassion and work to uplift each other?) and Kaitiakitanga (How can we build tools where all users become the guardians of the experience and data in a highly trusted, inclusive, and protected way?).