InternetNZ, Aotearoa’s internet guardian, has made an apology for the harm its institutional racism has caused Māori.
In mid-2021, a YouTube video containing discriminatory and racist threats, including threats of mass violence against Māori, was circulating online, and it took nearly 24 hours to be taken down.
“We did not step up and defend Māori communities or work to have the material removed from the internet, and we were wrong,” a statement released on the InternetNZ website on Wednesday says.
It commissioned an independent report by CORE Education tumu whakarae (chief executive) Hana O’Regan, which found evidence of institutional racism within InternetNZ’s historic foundations and at membership, governance, management and staff levels.
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Amid the video takedown and backlash, two Māori women who were InternetNZ councillors complained that InternetNZ’s failure to act in response to the threats was systemic racism.
There were complaints that InternetNZ – the home and guardian for the .nz domain – did not act quickly and clearly enough to condemn racist extremism online or other online threats of violence and harm directed at Māori, and Māori women in particular, the report says.
The two councillors resigned, which prompted the organisation to investigate its systemic racism and seek recommendations from O’Regan.
For Dr Karaitiana Taiuru, co-creator of the New Zealand Māori Internet Society, the apology is long overdue.
“There’s been 25 years of racism in this organisation, the detriment to Māori has been immeasurable.
“Personally, I blame InternetNZ for Māori being overrepresented for being bullied online, they could have made a huge impact and created a lot of resources years ago to prevent bullying of Māori.”
Taiuru, alongside his colleagues, has been raising concerns about InternetNZ’s treatment towards Māori since 1997, writing to ministers regarding the bullying and harassment Māori faced online and at the hands of the InternetNZ for decades, but said everything was overlooked.
“No one’s ever questioned them before,” Taiuru said.
“The New Zealand Government delegated the authority to a group of geeks back in the 90s and they just created their own rules and their own membership.”
It was the video of the white supremacist attempting to incite violence against Māori that was the last straw for Taiuru.
“[He] jumped on YouTube saying he was going to go out and start committing mass murder of Māori, and he was trying to promote other white supremacists to go out to the marae and other community groups to do what happened at the mosque,” he said.
“InternetNZ had the networks, the respect and the power to contact senior people to have that video removed from YouTube, but they just ignored it. They just said, ‘Well, it’s not our problem.’
“The video got taken down because of people like me trying to get some support when Netsafe and InternetNZ could have literally rung up the person in charge of YouTube New Zealand and got it taken down straight away.”
The independent report revealed examples of racist treatment over a 20-year period including: “In the late 1990s the Kohanga National trust wanted to set up Kohanga .nz and were flatly declined. They were told they had to use .school.nz and .ac.nz, but kohanga didn’t fit in – anyway. .kura.nz declined as well.”
In the report, O’Regan quoted examples of shifts in understanding of racism such as the 2020 Stuff apology – a “brave, well-planned admission that went a long way to address the grievance felt over generations amongst Māori resulting from their experiences with the media”.
“It is within this context of this increased national awareness and discussion on the issue, that the claims of systemic racism in InternetNZ have occurred.
“As examples of institutional and systemic racism continue to be brought into the public arena, we will see more and more organisations facing pressure to reflect on their policies and practices and change their behaviours.”
InternetNZ on Wednesday announced it had unanimously approved the recommendations in full.
Vivien Maidaborn, InternetNZ’s chief executive, acknowledged that there was institutional racism built into the culture and structures of the organisation that stemmed back decades.
“These systems, and the way people have acted within them, have caused harm to te ao Māori. We unreservedly apologise for the harm to te ao Māori. We know that from here, it is our actions that will right these wrongs.
”Council commissioned this review and, in that moment, took responsibility. Now council and myself, as CEO, will keep taking responsibility by stepping up to change racist systems and build strong partnerships with Māori that ensure equitable outcomes for Māori online, including .nz.”
Growing its understanding and relationship with te ao Māori was a priority for the organisation, and that its work reflected Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the diverse peoples of Aotearoa.
Its plan would include actions and deadlines, with an aspiration to release the action plan in early 2023.
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