Republished with permission from a blog article that originally appears on the IT Professionals New Zealand website.
On July 25th 2022 Netsafe and NZTech launched a new initiative that commits a range of technology companies to addressing the risk of online harmful content in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms has been adopted by Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Google (YouTube), TikTok, Twitch, and Twitter and is designed so as to enable relevant tech companies, large or small, Kiwi or global to also join.
The Code commits signatories to a set of Guiding Principles and Commitments that aims to mitigate the risks, reduce the prevalence and localise understanding of harmful content in seven areas:
- child sexual exploitation and abuse
- bullying or harassment
- hate speech
- incitement of violence
- violent or graphic content
The intention and development of the Code is encapsulated by four key principles sources from te ao Māori – mahi tahi (solidarity), kauhanganuitanga (balance), mana tangata (humanity) and mana (respect), which provide a framework to reflect both the need to serve are diverse community of internet users while achieving an operable and sustainable model in order to realise the purpose and aspirations of a workable and meaningful Code for people in New Zealand.
The Code is principle based and aims to promote online safety in New Zealand. It was developed over more than 18 months in response to the growing need for a comprehensive self regulatory online safety framework that could be adopted by signatories, large and small, and considered by other jurisdictions around the world.
The Code is an “industry-led” effort to foster initiatives to address the many challenges of online harmful content. “This could include, for example, identifying where company product fixes are needed, where local nuance is missing in enforcement of T&C’s, recommending technical changes to relevant company procedures, or investing in independent research on emerging issues or technologies that could impact online harm and safety protocols in a rapidly changing online environment.
From NetSafe’s and others perspective, the Code does not – and indeed cannot – exempt signatories from meeting their obligations under new or existing laws and regulations and the signatories already cooperate with authorities in meeting their obligations. Instead, the Code seeks to promote and hold Signatories account for their enforcement of safety systems, and processes, while taking into account New Zealand’s, at times, unique, local context. Importantly, it also provides the first domestic multistakeholder forum discussion and further localised development of standards in the online safety space.
While the Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms Code is still in its establishment phase with the appointment of the Governance Committee and complaints mechanisms due out shortly, signatories of the code have submitted their baseline reports documenting what they are doing to protect New Zealander’s online safety. They are available at https://nztech.org.nz/the-code
Interest in the Code from overseas
Since the Code launched there has been a lot of interest from a number of APEC and even European economies. For example, Netsafe has been assisting Sri Lanka with the development of its own Code. In Japan, the Code is been used to guide the conversations on responses to online safety and in India the Code is being looked at regarding online safety and children initiatives.
The Code has also had a significant impact on online safety protection in the world more broadly.
A team of leading academics, advocates and well-established researchers has proposed Georgia (in conjunction with Ukraine and Moldova) establish a Social Media Council (local council made of local stakeholders that would provide reports every six months to tech companies on content moderation issues and local context of the region). One of the aims of the Council is to develop a Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms. Netsafe has been invited to sit on the Social Media Council and share our online safety experience.
While the code is in its infancy the principles and framework has helped to promote a common understanding of online safety issues across APEC/Commonwealth and even global member economies, and is encouraging local but interoperable solutions to the development of comprehensive online safety measures in a number of countries. This, in turn, is helped to create a not for profit led consistent framework for online safety protection which has chosen to tackle some emergent online safety issues, with impact achievable given the flexibility of being arm’s length from governments.
The Code is being recognised as an important model for online safety protection, and has been cited as a key reference point by organisations such as Tech Against Terrorism and Transparency International. It is not the panacea for solving all issues related to online safety and governments will need to play a significant role in combating serious harm types, yet this is a significant and leading step in online safety. This recognition and interest in the Code is going some way to achieving common understandings of online safety issues in different cultural settings.