Coronavirus: Growing amount of content online that will make your 'hair curl and fall out' - NetSafe

A website where Kiwis can nominate public figures to be tried for crimes against humanity over their role in the vaccine rollout is a "worrying" reflection of the times we live in, says NetSafe. 

The site, which Newshub has chosen not to link to, promises a "day of reckoning" for those pushing the "experimental injection", saying they'll face "the largest class action in New Zealand". 

Targets include Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, other politicians such as COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, National Party leader Christopher Luxon and COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop. All have expressed support for the vaccine rollout. 

Health officials and experts are also in the firing line, including Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris. 

Some of the accusers appear to be using their real names - Newshub was able to link some using the site to Facebook profiles which contained similar anti-vaccination content and extreme views. 

"I'd love to say we've never seen anything like this before at any other time, that it was unprecedented - to use last year's favourite word of the year," NetSafe online safety operations manager Sean Lyons told Newshub.

"But the truth is to some extent there are parts of the internet that will work and operate like this, and probably have done since we've all been able to submit our opinions to the internet. There are a lots of bits out there that if an ordinary, reasonable person in the street saw them, it would make their hair curl and fall out."

The site says the accused will be tried for "multiple breaches" of The Nuremberg Code 1947, The Helsinki Declaration 1952, the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights and the NZ Bill of Rights 1990. 

The Nuremberg Code was a post-World War II document about medical experimentation which has no legal basis in New Zealand law. The World Medical Association replaced it in the mid-1960s with the Declaration of Helsinki 1964 (the 'Helsinki Declaration 1952 the above-mentioned site refers to doesn't appear to exist - the only references to it online can be found on anti-vaccination and alternative medicine websites). 

The UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights from 2003 doesn't mention vaccines at all (UNESCO earlier this year declaring vaccines a 'global public good'). The NZ Bill of Rights 1990 says people have the right to refuse medical treatments and experiments - not only are the vaccines used in New Zealand not experimental, no one is being forced to have them. 

A report earlier this year found a 100-fold increase in conspiracy theories being spread online in New Zealand following the arrival of the Delta variant in August. On Tuesday, three doctors had their practicing certificates suspended over their promotion of unproven COVID-19 claims

Lyons told Newshub NetSafe has observed a "narrowing of topic of conversations" online.

"COVID is a subject that's dominating a lot of the conversation and these kind of COVID-adjacent postings on the internet are a reflection of that. More people are talking in this way about the broad issues. 

"There are fairly significant social discussions going on in New Zealand obviously, and for some people that will result in normal discussion and discourse; and for other people, that will result in deciding to post on a website that links public officials and their behaviour to the Nazi Party and Second World War Germany. For most reasonable people, that's not a reasonable approach... but there's quite a lot of content like this around."

'I'm not hiding it'

The man behind the site told Newshub he made it because news outlets won't let him comment on their Facebook posts or YouTube videos. 

Daniel Suter, who runs a number of websites promoting conspiracy theories, vegan food and direct democracy, told Newshub he was "glad" we called. He said we'll be added to the list of accused on the site which promotes fringe figures in the New Zealand conspiracy scene as "heroes". 

"They are just an open forum for people to discuss things... I'm not hiding it… You ringing up and saying 'there's death threats and misinformation', well, I know your point of view. That's why Newshubbers will be listed on the accused." 

Suter said it would be "for the judges of the country to decide" who is guilty and who isn't. He compared the vaccine mandates requiring people in certain industries working in specific jobs to be vaccinated - to forcing a vegan to eat meat. 

"You think that's fair that I have to eat a steak? It's body sovereignty. I can't tell you 'eat that cream puff'... you're allowed to control what goes into your body."

Suter said he made the site because Newshub "do these hit pieces then you turn the comments off…  If we talk about it openly and we discuss the facts - or the opinions - we make progress. When we just turn off the comments and kind of ignore the voice of the people, it finds a way to come out."

Like most news sites, Newshub moderates the discussions that occur on our social media pages, with clear guidelines on what is and isn't acceptable.

Throughout our conversation, Suter made false claims regarding the vaccine and COVID-19, at one point claiming the virus only killed children who weren't previously "healthy". 

'They published it in the first place'

Suter at first said he wasn't aware of the death threats, despite claiming to know the contents "inside out and back to front". He later said it was "not really on", but denied responsibility.

"I'm not putting them there. What you have to understand is people are putting those death threats there because they are really hurting. People have lost their jobs, they're being shunned from society, they're not allowed to do anything anymore. Why? Because they have to take this vaccine." 

Lyons said as a publisher, Suter does bear some responsibility for the comments under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 (HDCA). 

"There is safe harbour protection for a host in that situation - they have a period of time under the HDCA to either contact the person. They should have a mechanism to contact them because it's their site and they're publishing, or allowing people to comment.

"They've got fair time to get in touch with that person and say, 'There has been a potential complaint made under the HDCA - do you stand by your comment? Is it true?' ... They've got that period of safe harbour, after which the court can ask people to remove content as the publisher, because they have the control. They published it in the first place - it might be the words of other people, but they gave them the mechanism to do it." 

NetSafe has a statutory role in investigating complaints made under the HDCA, but tries to get problems sorted out via negotiation before they reach court. While normally a complaint would have to be laid by one of the individuals named on the site, Lyons said "in theory" any person reading the content could be harmed "by association" and take action. 

"It's much more clear-cut to us when people bring content to our attention that is a clear breach of a particular platform's own terms of service. In this case I had a look and couldn't see any... there probably aren't any." 

Anti-vax lawyer denies involvement, despite site bearing her name

As mentioned above, Suter operates a number of websites - another of his, with similar content, is named after controversial lawyer Sue Grey, who is presently under investigation by the Law Society over her promotion of anti-vaccination views. Suter said Grey was aware of the site, but not involved in it.

Grey told Newshub via email she had nothing to do with any of Suter's websites, and didn't post on the one named after her (not to be confused with her official site, 

"I haven't had much time to look at social media recently… as I have been extremely busy including helping vax injured New Zealanders, struggling businesses and people who have been dismissed or are facing dismissal from their employment," Grey said. 

"I confirm I do not condone any discrimination, threats or violence, whether by the state or by individuals."

She said the sites also had nothing to do with the Outdoors Party, which she leads, and Suter claims to have done "computer programming" for. 

Police told Newshub they are aware of Suter's Nuremberg website, "but have not received any reports or complaints in relation to it". 

At the time of writing, Newshub had not yet been added to the list of accused.