New Zealand must address increasing levels of online hate, but legislation must be implemented carefully - Dr Chris Wilson

  • 12/11/2022

According to Dr Chris Wilson, New Zealanders are experiencing "unprecedented levels of vilification and abuse" due to their identity.

Ahead of new hate speech laws from Justice Minister Kiri Allan, Newshub Nation sat down with an expert to discuss how New Zealand might strike the right balance between preventing hate speech and preserving free speech.

Dr Chris Wilson is a hate speech researcher and runs the Masters of Conflict and Terrorism Studies at Auckland University. He says that although it's hard to record exactly how much hate speech is happening online in New Zealand, "it's pretty clear levels are increasing."

Referring to a study, Wilson said "approximately 45pct to 50pct of young people come across hate speech online."

For Wilson, hate is a process, which in many instances begins online, "but that often spills over to offline hate crimes, violence, intimidation, and harassment," he says.

Wilson notes that online exposure to hate "makes people feel like they are justified in abusing people face to face, but also other levels of hate crimes, including assault."

These behaviors play a role in creating larger forms of political violence, such as acts of terrorism. 

"There've been a number of terrorists who have explicitly stated before their attacks that they are sick of talking online and they actually need to put their words into action," says Wilson.

"These forms of violence offline then feed back into what's being said online and the process continues to escalate."

Wilson identifies racial and religious categories as being susceptible to the most hate, though vilification along gender and sexual identity lines is "probably increasing at the highest rate."

For Wilson, hate is generated within a cycle - "all these things feed into each other." He refers to the Overton Window of acceptable discourse, where increased hateful discussion in an online context can lead to the discussion of violence all of a sudden becoming legitimate. 

While "we've seen so much progress in society across the world over a number of decades, it's never inevitable that we're going to keep progressing in a positive way," says Wilson.

Online hate speech is a part of what leads people to violence offline, but Wilson recognises "it's not all of it, obviously."

He lists "alienation, frustration, a sense of marginalization, poverty, inequality, and polarisation," as additional factors leading to the cultivation of hate. 

Implementing legislation to counter hate speech is a delicate process, and Wilson admits "it's difficult to say what will stop it," but he "commends the government for trying something. Something needs to be done."

However, Wilson has reservations about hate speech legislation's "potential to make things worse."

It could "create a backlash against it in terms of people criticising a woke government, potentially generating more rhetoric and hateful speech than it actually prevents."

"While I commend the government for attempting this type of legislation, it needs to be done very carefully." 

Watch the full video for more.

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