National | Jacinda Ardern

PM: Online abuse has become worse but it can get better

Social media platforms have made significant changes in recent years to combat harmful communication, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says more needs to be done and, just as importantly, individuals need to take more responsibility.

In her fortnightly appearance on Te Ao Tapatahi, she says the recent cases of female politicians revealing the type of abuse they have received anonymously is not something those holding public offices should have to "get used to".

“We want good people to be attracted to coming into politics. We want people who want to make a difference. We don’t want them to be put off.”

The abuse levelled at cabinet minister Megan Woods and Christchurch city councillor Sara Templeton sparked a flurry of female politicians to come forward and reveal anonymous abuse or trolling they have endured, and sparked calls to review the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

Ardern, who has been subject to online abuse and inappropriate comments, said an immediate solution is for people to treat others with respect and kindness.

“Politicians are human, and we should treat one another in an online space the same way we teach our kids to treat one another.

Uphold terms of service

“Sometimes, when people online, get they seem to forget all those simple values we really value as a country.”

Asked if people should be required to register to use the internet as a tool to combat online abuse, she highlighted changes made by social media platforms since the Christchurch terror attack in 2019 but said there is always more that can be done to protect users.

“I think what everyone would like to see is social media companies upholding their own terms of service, their own codes. Most of them have set out the kind of behaviour they expect online, but they don’t always do a good job of upholding it.

“Yes, there’s a job for them to do but there is a job for us.”

While Ardern says online abuse has become worse over the year, she remains hopeful that can change.

“I’ve seen it get worse over the past 12 months than it has been before, so I can also expect it can get better.”