Jacinda Ardern responds to Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter after report labels disinformation as one of NZ's top concerns

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called on new Twitter owner Elon Musk to "stick strongly to the principle of transparency" as he cements his control over the social media behemoth.

"I will use that as our starting point, but it is fair to say we are in a bit of unknown territory at this point," Ardern said on Tuesday, hours after Musk dissolved Twitter's board and a day after spreading false information on the platform about Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul. 

The Government released its draft National Security Long-Term Insights briefing on Tuesday morning, which revealed what threats New Zealanders are most worried about. Mis- and disinformation were among the top concerns. 

"In fact, 1 in 4 people felt that mis and disinformation was the greatest threat to them and their families. We are particularly concerned about the challenge of disinformation as we see this exacerbating a number of national security issues," Ardern said in a speech at a counter-terrorism hui.

"It is impacting liberal democracies worldwide, eroding trust in institutions, and our ability to respond to it as a society is being tested."

Ardern said the Government is committed to tackling the threat of disinformation, including on social media through the Christchurch Call. 

Following her speech, Ardern was asked whether she is concerned that Musk owning Twitter may impact New Zealand's work with the platform.

"Twitter is one of the organisations that has been deeply involved in the Christchurch Call to Action and, to date, has been a really constructive partner," Ardern said.

"While I haven't had any opportunity to engage directly with Mr Musk, I think the point I would make here is that social media and platforms like Twitter have a huge responsibility. They can be a force for democracy, a force for connection and for good. But misuse can do a huge amount of harm."

The Prime Minister said she hopes Musk "would stick strongly to the principle of transparency as that is one of the things he has claimed he is focused on".

"Algorithmic outcomes is an area where we need more transparency, we need more research and we need more insights into the way that people's online experiences are curated. I will use that as our starting point, but it is fair to say we are in a bit of unknown territory at this point."

Elon Musk now owns Twitter.
Elon Musk now owns Twitter. Photo credit: Getty Images.

In September, Ardern announced a joint initiative with the United States and tech companies to establish new software to understand the impact of algorithms on users' online experiences and how algorithms may drive individuals towards terrorist or violent content. 

Twitter's then-head of legal Vijaya Gadde said the venture would "significantly expand the ability of researchers to understand the role of algorithms in content discovery and amplification while protecting the privacy of people's data". 

Following Musk's US$44 billion takeover of Twitter late last month, it was reported that Gadde was quickly fired.

Musk, who is styling himself as the 'Chief Twit' on Tuesday disbanded Twitter's board of directors and became the sole director of the company. He is expected to make widescale changes to the platform's content moderation policies and is reportedly considering charging users money to become verified on the site.

On Monday, Musk was criticised after he replied to a tweet from former US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by linking to an article containing misinformation about Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul. Paul was attacked over the weekend by a man known for spreading far-right conspiracy theories.

Musk's tweet has since been deleted, but it renewed concerns about his control of the social media platform and whether his upheaval of content moderation policies may lead to more misinformation on the site.

In a message to advertisers on Friday, Musk said Twitter could be a "digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence". He said Twitter "obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape" and people should be about to "choose your desire experience".