Global social media companies including TikTok, Twitter and Meta have signed a ‘world’s first’ code of conduct that commits them to reducing the spread of harmful content in New Zealand, but some user advocacy groups fear the code don’t be really biting.
Facebook and Instagram operators Meta, Google, TikTok, Amazon and Twitter have voluntarily signed the Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms, requiring them to reduce harmful content on their platforms, introduce a robust public complaints system and provide annual reports on security standards.
The companies agreed to reduce harmful content in seven key areas: child sexual exploitation and abuse, cyberbullying or harassment, hate speech, incitement to violence, violent or graphic content, misinformation and disinformation.
Netsafe, an independent online safety organization responsible for developing the code, said it was unique because it would enable the public and stakeholders to hold signatories to their commitments.
Its chief executive, Brent Carey, said the code built on other international codes of practice in the EU and Australia, but was the “first of its kind”.
“Although voluntary, digital platforms that become signatories commit to being held accountable,” the code says.
The code is not intended to replace obligations in existing laws or other voluntary regulations, he said, and is intended to be a “living document in the sense that it should be regularly revised”.
Netsafe reported a 25% increase in harmful content online during the pandemic and noted that around one in five adults and two in five young people in New Zealand have been negatively affected by digital communication.
Speaking to Newsroom, Carey compared the code to the Christchurch Call – a set of voluntary pledges established by New Zealand and France to remove violent extremist content from the internet, after a gunman far-right massacred 51 people at two mosques in 2019 while broadcasting its rampage live on Facebook.
The code has been the subject of consultation with industry and the public, but advocacy groups including Muslim community leaders, Internet NZ policy advisers and the anti-hate speech and misinformation group Tohatoha have said companies were using the code as a method to circumvent further regulation.
“In our view, this is a weak attempt to pre-empt regulation – in New Zealand and internationally – by promoting an industry-led model that eschews real change and real accountability,” Mandy Henk, chief executive of Tohatoha, told the NZ Herald. .
“NetSafe, as a certified administrator of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, should not be involved in the creation of industry codes of practice. This code is a distraction from their basic work of administering the law, which is of crucial importance.