Increase in online racism towards Māori concerning, experts say

The Mahuru Māori challenge for people to speak only Te Reo for a month finishes today.

But experts are concerned about the increase in online racism towards the Māori community and over the use of Te Reo.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori has been and gone, with Mahuru Māori wrapping up. While some businesses and New Zealanders are continuing their support of normalising the language every day, experts said the wrath towards the use of Te Reo is growing in severity online.

"It is horrible, horrendous and hateful. It is a constant, unending, unceasing daily harm, haranguing and harassment," said Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher at Disinformation Project.

His latest study shows in the last year during the lockdowns and anti-vaccination protests, the new social media networks formed have amplified the historic issues of structural racism and increased anti-Māori content online. He said much of what they find is revolting.

"[There's] revolting racism against the Māori language, the Māori community and everything associated with that, in terms of culture, context, history and their place in the country's social democratic, political, historic fabric," Hattotuwa said.

There's more of this content and it's worse than ever.

"You have seen an increased pace of production, so that the increased frequency and ferocity of the kind of content targeting Māori and again the language, te reo Māori, as well as the community."

One in three Māori experience racial abuse and harassment online in Aotearoa, with Māori women targeted the most, particularly those with moko kauae.

"And of course that's going to again offend colonial sensitivities. It's going to signal to them that the colonial project and goals are failing and that we're still here and not going anywhere. And all they know how to do in response to that is attack," human rights advocate Tina Ngata said.

Ngata said Māori women sit at the crosshairs of being targeted by both misogyny and racism, and she has experienced all levels of online abuse first-hand.

"All the way to death threats against me and against my family, family members against children."

The abuse and extremism are also spilling over into mainstream media, with female Māori presenters like Newshub's Oriini Kaipara often targeted.

"If anybody who didn't have thick skin and read into them, of course they will break you," she said in the recent documentary Kia Ora, Good Evening.

"When I first saw those messages it did get to me. I did cry. It was quite hateful and hurtful stuff."

Ngata said more needs to be done to keep Māori safe and even prevent real attacks.

"So there is a lot of work needed in this space to be able to get adequate monitoring, auditing and to secure safety for people. And that's evident in the amount of online attacks that we still see prevalent at the moment."

Because unfortunately in New Zealand, calling our country by its original name, Aotearoa, is enough to start a fight.

Increase in online racism towards Māori concerning, experts say