Conference tackles hate speech in New Zealand

There are fears online hate speech in New Zealand is growing.

A conversation on internet hate kicks off in Wellington on Tuesday, and internet trolls, hateful comments and freedom of expression will be top of the agenda.

Green Party human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says education will be a key driver to change how people think.

"We're not that aware of our rights, so a lot of it will have to do with public education," she says.

"People also need to know what the standards are for behaviour online so they don't cross the line, because at the moment because at the moment it's just a free-for-all."

The Human Rights Act section 61 protects against hate speech directed at people on the basis of "colour, race or ethnic or national origins", but not sexual orientation. The part of the Act which deals in sexual harassment - section 62 - doesn't cover speech.

The Human Rights Commission last year said it didn't want a widening of the Act to cover more views as hate speech, fearing free speech was under threat - particularly at universities.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act will be up for its first review in November. The Act saw an overall total of 108 charges last year, 50 in 2016 and just three in 2015.

Prosecution under the Act can result in fines of up to $50,000 or a two year prison sentence for individuals, and fines of up to $200,000 for corporations.