The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in online disinformation, misinformation, hate-speech and cyber-bullying. The causes are myriad, but the venue is almost always the same: social media platforms. Now, New Zealand’s internet watchdog, Netsafe, and industry group NZTech have announced the launch of their Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms (ANZCPOSH or “the Code”).
The intention and development of the Code is encapsulated by four key Māori principles of mahi tahi (solidarity), kauhanganuitanga (balance), mana tangata (humanity) and mana (respect). All of which are critical to serving the diverse user communities in New Zealand and realising the purpose and aspirations of the Code. The Code requires its signatories to actively reduce harmful content on their various platforms (as far as they operate in New Zealand), and has been designed with input from multiple parties, including tech industry interest groups and those with a wider interest in protecting civil society and democracy.
This, on its own, would be welcome news, but they have also announced that some of the biggest players in tech have signed up to it, namely Meta (aka the tech company formerly known as Facebook, who also own Instagram and WhatsApp), Google, TikTok, Amazon and Twitter.
But what do we mean by “signed up”? The cloudy patch on this otherwise bright new dawn for social media safety is that the“first-of-its-kind” Code is an entirely voluntary, self-regulatory framework. While this may set alarm bells ringing for some (and the Code has been subject to criticism from some interest groups), in the absence of any clear intention from the government to regulate in this area, it is certainly a step in the right direction. There are also existing examples of this sort of voluntary code being effective – from ESG (environment, social and governance) initiatives for example for our client Toitū’s Enviromark, to the Advertising Standards Authority’s various Codes and complaints framework.
In order to be compliant with the Code, signatories will agree to be evaluated by the “new multi-stakeholder governance group” administering the Code, produce annual reports on their adherence to the Code, be subject to sanctions for breaches, take part in a public complaints process, and be transparent about their internal policies and processes around harmful content.