Winston Peters lashes out at social media's freedom to 'ruin people's reputations'

Winston Peters is lashing out at social media over the freedom it provides for people to express their views often without consequence and "ruin people's reputations".

The Deputy Prime Minister said "sooner or later" social media companies will be "forced to have and follow the same standards as the mainstream media".

The 74-year-old New Zealand First leader made the comments in an interview with Magic Talk's Peter Williams, who asked Peters about his court case currently unfolding in Auckland.

Peters, who claims his reputation was damaged in a politically-motivated leak of his pension overpayments in 2017, emphasised the importance of defending his reputation - particularly against "foul comments" on social media.

"You spend a lifetime trying to build a reputation and to have it trashed by malicious comment and foul statements and defamed... is not what our society is about," Peters told Magic Talk.

"Sooner or later, we're going to be as a country saying to social media, 'You're going to be forced to have and follow the same standards as the mainstream media'."

Peters added, "If you doubt me, go and look what they're saying right now about this case - all in contempt of court... as if they exist above the law, so to speak.

"One day, they're going to be forced... if we mean to go on as a good society... to obey the law like the rest of us."

Peters said all social media companies see is "opportunity and money, but they didn't see the requirement to have the same obligations, to tell the truth, and be able to defend what you say, as it applies to the mainstream media".

"In social media, they can make any foul comment, ruin people's reputations, ruin their lives..."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been promoting social media transparency and online safety as part of the Christchurch Call, a crisis-response framework for tech companies and governments following the March 15 shootings.

Responding to Peters' comments, Ardern said Tuesday it's "just a general principle we have to make sure that our laws are up to date and that they take into account that we don't just operate in a world now of print and television".

Social media companies are somewhat protected under New Zealand law by what are called 'safe harbour provisions' under the Digital Communications Act.

It provides a way for companies to be protected from legal responsibility for the content other people post to their website, app or social media if they follow a certain process when dealing with complaints.

The problem is, it can take says before harmful content is taken down. By contrast, Germany requires terrorist content to be removed within an hour, and Australia has also taken a tougher stance on social media companies.

Ardern said Internal Affairs Minister and New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin has been "working on" looking at potential changes to the current law.

"One of the issues that has been raised with us is whether or not legislation is up to date, given that we have mainstream media covered by certain requirements and expectations around objectionable material, and whether or not that needs to be broadened out."

Peters told reporters Tuesday afternoon, the time will come "soon" when in the "interest of our society and the quality of it, [social media] will be required to follow the same standards".

He said it's "inevitable" and that if the law isn't changed, "suicides will increase".